When it comes to the main protagonists of human and Jewish history, the Torah identifies the virtues for which they were singled out for greatness.
Noah, father of Humanity 2.0, was selected because of his piety. Abraham, father of the Jewish people, was chosen due to his exemplary focus on education. And so on.
When it comes to Judaism’s greatest leader, Moses, the Torah seems to
remain silent on what it was that made him singularly fit to lead the Jewish people, but a closer look at the text on Moses’ first encounter with God sheds light on what made Moses special in God’s eyes.
“Moses was grazing the sheep of his father-in-law…an angel of God appeared to him in a flame of fire from within the thorn-bush. [Moses] saw and – behold! – the bush was burning in the fire but the bush was not consumed. Moses thought, ‘Let me turn aside now and see this great sight—why will the bush not be burned?’ God saw that he turned aside to see and called out to him…”
As the sequence of events suggests, it wasn’t Moses’ courage or charisma but his insatiable curiosity for which he was selected to become Judaism’s greatest teacher.
Hence the previous verse can be understood to mean: “God saw that he turned aside to see and therefore called out to him…”
Moses was 80-years-old, an age when most others have become hardened to novelty and closed to life’s magic and mysteries, and yet Moses maintained the marvel and innocence of an inquisitive child.
Perhaps this saga of the burning bush was God’s way of testing whether there burned in Moses an inexhaustible desire to search, learn, and discover.
And Moses, to whom we refer lovingly until this very day as “our teacher”, taught us the lesson that as long as one is curious to know, and willing to ask, the “fire burns” and the “bush – or tree of life – is not consumed”.
- Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson is executive director of Chabad of Belgravia, London
Listen to this week’s episode of the Jewish Views!