Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
This is the year. 2016 is going to be the year when we resolve to do what we’ve resolved to do every year in the past and never did. Right!? Perhaps this year might be different if we begin in a new way. Taking our cue from this week’s Torah portion at the beginning of Exodus, the Israelite’s trek begins with Moses’ first sighting of God’s presence. And, so begins his awareness of a new way.
In Exodus 3:1-6, we read, “Now Moses, tending the flock…came to Horeb, the mountain of God. An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire out of a bush.” Then Moses turned aside “to look at this marvelous sight.” God called to him out of the bush: “Moses! Moses!” He answered, “Here I am.” A new way for Moses began when he turned to see what was in front of him from a new perspective. Had Moses not turned he would have failed to see what he saw.
Physiologically, what Moses did made much sense. Our eyes are composed of rods and cones (not Cohens). In the dark, if we looked straight ahead it would be difficult to see what’s in front of us. That’s because we’re using the rods. But, if we turned aside and used the cones, which are to the left and right of each eye, we would let in more light and be able to see better in the dark. Try it when you’re walking in the house and the lights are mostly off; turn your head to the side and use the cones rather than the rods. You’ll be able to see better in the dark and find your way more easily.
Now, Moses wasn’t standing in the dark when he beheld the burning bush, but metaphorically speaking, he was. When he turned aside he was able to see what he couldn’t see when he looked straight ahead. So, we learn from Moses’ example that we need to change our angle of vision and alter our perspective in order to see what’s present before us, too. What difference will it possibly make?
In a Midrash, Rabbi Joshua ben Korchah taught, “Why did God choose a thorn bush from which to speak to Moses?” He replied, “To teach you that no place is devoid of God’s presence, not even a thorn bush.” That is, had God appeared in a beautiful tree or lofty mountain, we might have asked the same question, but if God could appear in a lowly thing, then God could appear anywhere. Indeed, to see God in a high place would have fit our expectations, because we’ve been reared on the belief that God is present on blessed occasions. So, to see God in lowly places, times of personal challenge, individual weakness or situational depression, we, like Moses, need to turn aside and view God’s presence in our life differently. More than a presence at a wedding or other happy event, God is also source of courage, strength, and hope. We just didn’t “see” the possibility until now.
Like Moses, we’ll approach God’s presence cautiously even if it’s just because we aren’t sure. But, like Moses, we’ll come to stand in awe of it because God’s presence burns unconsumed in our life, too. However, let’s not forget that God, manifested in that burning bush, also beheld a marvelous sight. God saw Moses and called out to him, “Moses! Moses!” and Moses replied, “Here I am!” It was a spectacular beginning to an enduring relationship. As it was for Moses, finding God in all the times of our life also depends on our ability to hear the still small voice within us and the wisdom to reply, “Here I am.” (Lyon, Rabbi David. “God is Everywhere.” God of Me: Imagining God throughout Your Lifetime. Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishers, 2011. pages 7-20.)
January 1, 2016, is just another day if it doesn’t include the possibility of a new beginning. In some regards, the way forward is inevitable and there’s nothing we can do about it; but, I believe that there is much we can do about the way forward. It begins as it always has with a new angle and fresh perspective.