Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Burning Bush and Our Spiritual Growth

Dear Friends,
This time Hashem guided me to an audio recording of my Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh that greatly inspired me, so I decided to share it with you, spending hours finding all of the sources that the Rav quoted. I hope this week's teaching about the burning bush will move you as much as it moved me. I added a very short practical meditation at the beginning to go with the fivefold teaching.
With Blessings of the Torah and the Land

Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Click here for Rebbetzin's commentary on Haftorat Shemot - "On the Verge of Redemption"

Parasha Meditation Shemot
Shemot 1:1-6:1
The Burning Bush and Our Spiritual Growth[1]

When our redeemer Moshe Rabbeinu was eighty years old, and out in the desert shepherding the sheep of his father-in- law, Yitro, he noticed a strange phenomenon. As he looked closer he received his first revelation from Hashem at the burning bush.
ספר שמות פרק ג
ב) וַיֵּרָא מַלְאַךְ הַשֵם אֵלָיו בְּלַבַּת אֵשׁ מִתּוֹךְ הַסְּנֶה וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה הַסְּנֶה בֹּעֵר בָּאֵשׁ וְהַסְּנֶה אֵינֶנּוּ אֻכָּל:
:ג) וַיֹּאמֶר משֶׁה אָסֻרָה נָּא וְאֶרְאֶה אֶת הַמַּרְאֶה הַגָּדֹל הַזֶּה מַדּוּעַ לֹא יִבְעַר הַסְּנֶה

:ד) וַיַּרְא הַשֵם כִּי סָר לִרְאוֹת וַיִּקְרָא אֵלָיו אֱלֹהִים מִתּוֹךְ הַסְּנֶה וַיֹּאמֶר משֶׁה משֶׁה וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּנִי
The angel of Hashem appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of the bush; and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Moshe said: 'I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.' When Hashem saw that he turned aside to see, G-d called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said: 'Moshe, Moshe.' And he said: 'Here am I.'[2]

The word הַסְּנֶה – HaSneh – "the bush," is mentioned for the first time in the Torah at the beginning of the Book of Shemot, where it appears five times. This corresponds to the beginning of the Book of Bereishit where the word אוֹר – Ohr – "Light" also appears five times.
ספר בראשית פרק א
ג) יֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר וַיְהִי אוֹר:
ד) וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאוֹר כִּי טוֹב וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלֹהִים בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחשֶׁךְ:
ה) וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָאוֹר יוֹם וְלַחשֶׁךְ קָרָא לָיְלָה וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם אֶחָד
G-d said: 'Let there be light.' And there was light. And G-d saw the light that it was good; and G-d divided the light from the darkness. G-d called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. There was evening and there was morning, one day.[3]

Let us meditate upon the image of the burning bush and how we can apply it to our own spiritual growth. There is a clear correspondence between the revelation of the first light and the first Divine revelation to Moshe who received the Torah which is the manifestation of light.[4] Hashem chose to give all the Torah and light to the Jewish people. Divine revelation is also an experience of light and enlightenment.

Take several deep breaths, relax, close our eyes and meditate on the symbol of the burning bush. As you breathe stay longer, relax more. Allow warmth of the fire flow through your body. Notice a white, comforting light emanating from the bush. You can only see and feel this light when you take the time to stop and relax. The light is in the bush. The light is in you, warming you, healing you, surrounding you with white light...with a sense of unity with all of G-d’s creation.

Imagine the paradox of the thorn-bush burning with the fire and flame without being consumed. Visualize before you the thorny branches remaining intact even as they are surrounded by flames of fire. Imagine five leaves growing out of one point of the branch. The entire bush is filled with leaves that come in groups of five, all growing out of the same point. Inhale visualize the bush, exhale visualize the fire burning it without burning it away. Repeat four more times.

The burning fire of the bush emanated from the original light "Ohr HaGanuz" that Hashem hid away for the tzadikim to enjoy in the coming world.[5] Moshe's first experience of these five lights represented by the five times the word הַסְּנֶה – HaSneh – "the bush," is mentioned, corresponds to the five primary emotions of the heart.

Chesed – חֶסֶד (Loving/Kindness)   Avraham
Gevurah – גְּבוּרָה, (Courage/Awe)   Yitzchak
Tiferet –תִּפְאֶרֶת (Beauty/Compassion)   Ya'acov
Netzach –נֵצַח (Confidence/Victory)   Moshe

Hod – הוֹד (Sincerity/Acknowledgment)   Aharon

Hod is the temimut – simplicity – walking simply with G-d with dedication and thanksgiving acknowledging G-d's eternal presence.
מדרש רבה שמות פרשה ב פסקה ה
ר' נחמן בנו של ר' שמואל בר נחמן אומר כל האילנות יש מהן עושה עלה אחת ויש מהן שתים או שלש הדס עושה שלש שנקרא (ויקרא כג) עץ עבות אבל הסנה יש לו ה' עלין א"ל הקב"ה למשה אין ישראל נגאלין אלא בזכות אברהם יצחק ויעקב ובזכותך ובזכות אהרן:
Rabbi Nachman son of Rabbi Shemuel son of Nachman says, of all the trees, there are some that produce one leaf [from the same point], and there are those who produce two or three. The myrtle produces three leaves [that emerge from the same point]. It is called "a thick-leaved tree."[6] However, הַסְּנֶה – the bush, has five leaves [that emerge from the same point]. Hashem told Moshe, 'Israel is only redeemed in the merit of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'acov, and in your merit and in the merit of Aharon your brother.[7]

The burning bush with its five leaves emerging from one common source relates to Hashem's message to Moshe to propel him to become the redeemer of the Jewish people, taking them out of bondage. In order to successfully emerge from exile you have to have the merit of five souls. Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya'acov, the patriarchs correspond to the three leaves of the myrtle tree. The additional tzadikim that have to be connected and combined with the first three are Moshe and his brother Aharon. Only by joining all five of these souls together can redemption take place.
According to Kabbalah these five souls corresponds to the first five of the emotional sefirot –emanations. The bush, initially, before it even takes on fire, represents these five emerging from one, like five fingers emerging from the same hand. It is the hand of G-d which will redeem Israel from Egypt.[8] The Ten Plagues correspond to the two hands. They reappear afterwards in the Ten Commandments, on the Two Tablets representing five fingers of two hands. The secret of Exodus is the secret of five. The first phenomenon of five is the five lights of creation. Torah itself is light, the Five Books of Moshe – the five revelations of Divinity – become even more potent and physically manifest in the burning bush.

Moshe witnessed the amazing miraculous phenomenon that the bush was burning without burning away. He saw two different creations, one is the fire and the other is the bush. The general law of nature is that all created things become consumed and expire. The bush had the miraculous character that it remained. Nothing could harm it. We can glean five levels of teachings, from the revelation of the burning bush, corresponding to its five leaves that emanate from one point.

1. The first teaching is that there is no place devoid of the Divine presence, even the lowest of bushes – the thorn bush.[9] If you put your hand into הַסְּנֶה – HaSneh – "the bush" you will get scratched. On the other hand the bush also produced roses with the most amazing aroma. The bush represents the Jewish people, which more than any other people on earth includes both the greatest tzadikim (righteous people) and greatest reshaim (wicked people).[10] There is no place vacant of G-d, even this thorny bush דלית אתר פנוי מניה – D'Leit Atar Panui Minei.[11] The omnipresence of the Creator even in the lowest part of creation, was Hashem's first teaching to Moshe.

This teaching is related to Avraham, the first of the great souls in the fivefold unity, which gives the Jewish people the merit to be redeemed from Egypt. Avraham was the first person to teach the world true monotheism. With great חֶסֶד – Chesed – (Loving/Kindness) he taught the world that G-d is everywhere. Not only is G-d the only G-d, His presence, moreover, permeates the entire world. G-d and the world is one. The basic teaching that G-d is omnipresent, even in things that appears to be negative and lowly, arouses and inspires us to come closer to G-d.

2. From one revelation to the next of the five levels, we descend stage by stage from the fire to the bush – from the light to the vessel. The first revelation was to realize that G-d is everywhere. Wherever you look there is G-dly fire, even if you don't see it. The second teaching is that G-d experiences pain from the pain of his people. עִמּוֹ אָנֹכִי בְצָרָה – Imo anochi b'tzara – "I will be with him in trouble."[12] This second stage of descent makes the experience much more touching to one's heart. First the bush represented all of reality, now the bush represents the Jewish people. The bush is experiencing pain, but Hashem is there in the midst of the pain.

The very concept of pain and suffering comes from the second emanation of the heart which is Gevurah – גְּבוּרָה, (Courage/Awe), represented by Yitzchak. Hashem participates in our pain. He is not just patting us on the back, he is actually experiencing our very pain.בכל צרתם לו צר – B'chol Tzaratam lo Tzar – "In all their troubles, He experiences pain".[13] G-d suffers together with the Jewish people. He wants us to feel that He is together with us. This is also a support that He definitely will redeem us.

3. The third teaching is to experience the paradox of two opposites existing simultaneously. Before Moshe saw the paradox in the situation, he wasn't drawn to go over and see what was going on. Only when he saw the paradox that the bush was burning, but not burning away, did he take five steps to approach the bush. Divine beauty is reflected in the existence of opposites within the wonder of nature. When two opposite blend together in perfect harmony, it produces beauty. Nature is never just one color. The Jewish deep sense of Divine curiosity, to try to understand the very experience of opposites existing simultaneous is the third level of revelation. Whereas the first teaching focused on the fire – the fire of G-d's omnipresence, the second teaching focuses on the bush – that G-d participates in the pain of the bush. At the third teaching we have reached the middle point where all is equal. There is equal existence of fire and bush. It is the wonder of the co-existence of fire and bush.

Compassion is to see and witness what is happening – the bush is burning, but not burning away. The coexistence and harmony of opposites is Tiferet –תִּפְאֶרֶת (Beauty/Compassion) represented by Ya'acov who was a scientist. Actually, he performed all kinds of scientific experiments to understand what is going on in Nature, and come to the root of the phenomenon of nature. He understood G-d by understanding the wonders of Nature.

4. In the fourth teaching the fire is no longer a symbol of G-d, but of the servitude of Egypt. This fire is trying to consume and burn away the Jewish soul. However, it is not going to succeed in burning out the Jewish soul, for the Jewish people is an eternal people, and nothing is going to consume us. No profane fire, whatsoever, is going to consume the Jewish soul and the Jewish people. The Jewish people is essentially an eternal people, because it is a part of G-d himself. In the fourth teaching there is greater focus on the bush than on the fire. The bush which represents the Jewish people is eternal.

This corresponds to Moshe our teacher and the sefirah of נֵצַח – Netzach – (Confidence/Victory) Moshe who emerged victorious from Pharaoh's wrath, and who brought us the eternal Torah stands for victory and eternity.

5. In the fifth teaching, the Jewish soul is meditating upon the truth of G-d's essential changelessness and eternity, which is totally transcendent from the physical reality that constantly changes. This deep meditation would naturally bring the Jewish soul to spiritual consumption – klalot nefesh – making the soul leave the body altogether, consumed into becoming a part included within G-dliness. כִּי אֲנִי הַשֵם לֹא שָׁנִיתִי וְאַתֶּם בְּנֵי יַעֲקֹב לֹא כְלִיתֶם – "I G-d did not change, and you the children of Ya'acov were not consumed."[14] The simple reading of this verse follows the fourth teaching that no matter what happens to the Jewish people, they will never be consumed. Yet, in the fifth and final revelation the very same verse is interpreted by the founder of Chabad Chassidic movement[15] to refer to the mediation taking place in the psychic of the Jewish soul itself. It is as if the verse is asking a question, "How can the Jewish soul meditate in depth upon G-d's essential transcendence, changelessness and eternity without the soul leaving the body?" The Jewish soul in its רַצוֹא – retzo –"run" aspires to become part of G-d, yet the soul knows that Hashem wants it to remain down on earth to live, and make this world a dwelling place of G-d within the body. The commitment of the soul not to expire into G-d, in klalot hanefesh, is the שוֹב – shov – "return".[16] This is the essential prerequisite before the soul begins to run up to G-d. Because of the presence of the principle of "return", it does not expire, even when it experiences G-d's absolute transcendence.

This last interpretation – the fifth level – is the deepest revelation of the bush itself. This bush is so great that it doesn't expire, even if it totally beholds the Divine revelation that "I G-d does not change." In the fourth teaching the fire was negative. The Jewish people would never be consumed by this fire. In the fifth teaching the fire returns to become a positive fire, representing the fire of G-ds absolute transcendence. The ultimate greatness of the Jewish soul that it doesn't expire, because it is the desire of the Creator that it remains on earth to fulfill G-d's will. This corresponds to Hod – הוֹד (Sincerity/Acknowledgment) represented by the last of the fivefold unity of holy souls: Aharon the Kohen Gadol. He was able to enter the Holy of Holies while his soul still remained within his body.

These five revelations that Moshe experienced at the burning bush, corresponding to the five lights of the first day of creation, are becoming very manifest in the physical reality, in this paradoxical experience of the burning bush.

[1] This meditation is a transcription and annotation of Rabbi Ginsburgh's audio lecture from
[2] Shemot 3:2-4
[3] Bereishit 1:3-5
[4] "For a candle is a mitzvah and the Torah is light" (Mishlei 6:23)
[5] Rashi, Bereishit 1:4
[6] Vayikra 23:40
[7] Shemot Rabah, Parasha 2, Piskah 5
[8] See Shemot 13:3
[9] Yalkut Shimoni, Shemot, Chapter 3, Allusion 169
[10] Midrash Rabah, Shemot 2:5
[11] Tikunei Zohar, Daf 91b
[12] Tehillim 91:15
[13] Babylonian Talmud, Ta'anit 16a
[14] Malachi 3:6
[15] Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, The Altar Rebbe, author of the Tanya
[16] The Kabbalistic principle of רְצוֹא וְשוֹב –"Running and returning" is first mentioned in Sefer Yetzira, Chapter 1.

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