Shemot · Tekoa Manning · Torah Portion

Shemot Part II, The Burning Bush

Moses picks up his staff and continues moving his father-in-law’s sheep along the rugged terrain. He has been doing this for 40 years, and it has been therapeutic and back-breaking. The heat of the noon-day sun beams down upon him as he ponders being a shepherd for so long. His occupation has undoubtedly given him much time to think and converse with the God of his fathers, but Moses wonders if he missed his calling. He longs for more.

His mother, Jochebed, told Moses that he had an assignment to free his people from their burdens, but Moses knows that can never be. Not after his past.  He’s made too many mistakes. Moses can still hear the voice of his fellow Hebrew. He had tried to bring correction years ago, but was met with the retort of “Who made you, Moses, to be a ruler and judge over us? Are you planning to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”
Moses had been so grieved over his people’s high taxing, heavy labor, and their bondage, but he was not mature enough then to deal with his emotions. Moses was still enraged over the stories his parents and siblings had told him of how all the male babies had drowned in the Nile and were eaten by crocodiles. How the innocent blood of these newborn sons filled the water, and a stench rose through the air. Beautiful life snuffed out and by who? His own adopted grandfather. He heard stories of how his people wept and wept until they had no tears left. Moses understood grief.

On the backside of the desert, alone, Moses has come to know the Holy One’s Voice. He has had much time to meditate on the lessons he’s learned as a shepherd and all the ways he has gained understanding from his sorrow.

Moses has had many hours to replay the events of Egypt and his family he left there, but what has haunted him from his past the most was the man’s life he had taken. His hands had shed blood and he had buried him in the sand. If Moses tries hard enough, he can still see the young man he killed and feel the sand in his hands packing and covering the Egyptians body. Now aged and worn from the many miles of travel–his skin bronzed from the sun’s heat, yes, now as his hair has turned white with age, he knows he had acted foolishly and out of anger. Oh, how he longed to go back in time and change the circumstances, but this too was impossible. It had taken years for Moses to get over his past. Moses recalls the day he raised his hands toward heaven and said, God of my fathers, if You have forgiven me, I now forgive myself! Suddenly the sky had lit up, and a light rain began to wash his tears and moisten his face. He had laughed so hard, and Moses had felt so free afterward that he fell to the ground and prostrated himself–laughing and crying in release as the rain fell softly over him.

Moses has gained keen eyesight for spotting wolves and predators that attack sheep, and he has learned their demeanor—sneaking around salivating, watching from hidden places, and waiting to pounce on one of the younger, weaker lambs. Once when he was bringing the sheep to the river to drink, a little lamb lingered back and would not drink. Moses picked up the lamb and carried it. He took rocks and made a still area, so the water was not rushing swiftly, and he coaxed the lamb to drink. While caring for the little ewe, he noticed a rustling in the trees and saw a wolf ready to pounce on one of the smaller sheep. Moses drew his sling and nailed the wolf sending it yelping away.

 

Moses knows that his sheep know his voice. When the other shepherds bring their sheep to the river to drink, Moses calls, and his sheep, and only his sheep, follow him. He laughs at a memory of Zipporah calling from the sheep gate and trying to get them to follow her. They would not. His wife had been a great blessing during the birthing season. His sons and wife, one year, delivered almost 300 lambs with the help of Jethro and the servants. Zipporah is strongly built and tougher than many a man, but Moses sees her softer side, and when she is transparent, she is lovely to behold–an excellent mother.

Today Moses feels exhausted, and he is concerned about his future and his parents and siblings in Egypt. Besides a few secretive meetings, he has not seen his family much in 40 years. Moses realizes time has run swiftly like a gazelle past him and his reflection in the river keeps getting older and what has he done with his days under the sun? His mother and father spared his life, but for what? To tend sheep. Moses flashes back to when he was a young man. While visiting the Pharaoh with his mother, he had placed the Pharaoh’s crown on his head. Soon whispers began to spread that Moses would one day usurp the kingdom. But instead, he had fled and was a wanted man. His time in Egypt seemed like another lifetime when he was another person.

Moses continues pondering the many things that are troubling him. He wonders what it is about Mount Horeb that draws him to it. Will he die here on this mountain? The sun is starting to lower on the horizon, and Moses realizes he needs to get the sheep back home to safety. Predators are prevalent at night.

Suddenly as he turns to leave, he sees a bush, and it is lit with flames as if on fire. Moses stops. He feels a wind stirring in his spirit that he has never felt. “What is this sight? I must go over and see this marvelous vision. Why is the bush not burning up? Moses takes steps and stands in front of the spectacle in awe. Suddenly a Voice speaks, and it resonates with his insides. It is the loudest voice Moses had ever heard, and yet it is a whisper—it fills him with both wonder and fear.

“Moses, Moses!”

“Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer to the bush. Remove your sandals for this place where you stand is Holy ground. For I am the God of your fathers. I am the God of Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob.”

“I have indeed seen the affliction of My people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their oppressors, and I am aware of their sufferings. I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached Me, and I have seen how severely the Egyptians are oppressing them. Therefore, go! I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring My people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:7-10, ESV).

Moses is trying to wrap his brain around what he is hearing. His mind is filled with concern and worry, and why the God of His fathers would send him?

“Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

Moses ponders his identity and a lifetime of mistakes. What power or authority could he possibly have? He had to flee for his life after he murdered the Egyptian. Someone may still be seeking my life, he thought.

“Moses, I am Your God, and I will surely be with you, and this will be the sign to you that I have sent you to free your people. When you have brought the people out of Egypt all of you will worship me on this holy mountain for the great deliverance you will see with your own eyes!

“Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ What should I tell them?”

 

Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you. ‘The God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is how I am to be remembered in every generation.

“Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—has appeared to me and said: I have surely attended to you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your affliction in Egypt, into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’

The elders of Israel will listen to what you say, and you must go with them to the king of Egypt and tell him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Now please let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness, so that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’ But I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go unless a mighty hand compels him. So, I will stretch out My hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders I will perform among them. And after that, he will release you.

And I will grant this people such favor in the sight of the Egyptians that when you leave, you will not go away empty-handed. Every woman shall ask her neighbor and any woman staying in her house for silver and gold jewelry and clothing, and you will put them on your sons and daughters. So you will plunder the Egyptians.” (Exodus 3:16-22, ESV)

Moses stands and weighs the weight of what he is hearing. It is heavy to contemplate.  He is fearful, and Moses realizes that when he had the fire in his soul and the Chutzpah to take on Pharoah, the strength of a young man, the mind of a young man, the fearlessness of man and the boldness to correct his brethren, he blew it. He doesn’t have the ability to lead people now. Back then, perhaps. Now? No way. No how!

Oh, mighty Elohim, behold, the people will not believe me. Why would they listen to my voice? They won’t believe me. They will say, “The Holy One did not appear to you!”

“What is that in your hand, Moses?”

“A staff.”

“Throw it on the ground, Moses.”

Moses threw it on the ground, and his staff became a serpent.

Moses jumped and then ran from the serpent.

“Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”

Moses obeyed in wonder and caught the serpent, and the serpent became a staff.

Moses these signs will follow you that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”

“Again, the LORD said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground” (Exodus 4:6-9, ESV).

Moses meditates on the blood of all the male babies born during his day that filled the Nile and now, the Holy One is telling him that if the people do not believe him, he will be able to turn water into blood? Oh, the burden of what Moses is hearing is too much for him to bare or comprehend . And, all his weaknesses and mistakes and inability to lead a people are crashing into him. THUNDERING!

“Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:10-13, ESV).

Suddenly, the bush glowed with such heat, Moses could feel the anger of the Mighty One, and he regretted his weaknesses and lack of seeing his identity.

****

Jill Hammer 27 Tevet, The Snake and the Branch:

Moses expresses doubts about this mission. The Holy One gives Moses a sign, turning Moses’ staff into a snake and then back into a staff. This staff is a symbol of “gevurah,” strength. It is at the same time part of a tree, a symbol of the Tree of Life; and as a snake, which is able to put its tail in its mouth, it is the circle of life.

Moses has been a staff: He has supported his wife and father-in-law and nurtured his flock. Now he is to become a snake and bite at the heel of Pharoah. The Divine asks Moses to respect and nourish the circle of life. Moses must be willing to turn back into a staff, back into a nourisher and sustainer, when that is needed. According to Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliiezer, the staff of Moses has been a gift to humanity since Creation. It teaches us to be gentle as well as fierce.”

The Jewish Book of Days, pg. 153, Jill Hammer.

Part I click HERE

Shemot · Tekoa Manning · Torah Portion

Shemot, Names

 

Shalom! Just a sidenote: I am telling a story based on the biblical narrative found in the Bible. I am trying to paint a picture with words. I am not trying to add or take away anything from the written Word of Adonai. I hope you enjoy this week’s portion.

 

Pharoah awoke and walked to the area where he bathed. The daily ritual refreshed him, and the water was cleansing him for his priestly duties as commander of all Egypt. Lately, he had been troubled though, and his dreams had been perplexing. He could feel a shift coming and many were concerned with the Hebrews revolting, overpowering, and taking over the kingdom. He would make sure that did not happen. He dried himself and called for his servants who came immediately to anoint him with perfumed oil and dress him in royal robes and headdress. Pharoah wore the falcon proudly on his tunic as he walked to the temple adjacent to his royal gardens. He wondered about his upcoming meeting that day. He would be conversing with the magicians and astrologers. After honoring Horus, the god of the sky and protector of kingship, he tried to center himself. But Pharoah was anxious in his spirit. Five astrologers had gathered in his meeting room, along with three magicians and those he deemed as wise. They bowed before him as he rose from his seat.

“What have you found?”

The astrologers were fearful but spoke in truth.

“Pharoah, we have seen the star and the heavens proclaim that one who is a savior of the people you have enslaved will rescue them, and you Pharoah, will come to an end through water. Water that rushes over your armies and brings destruction”

Pharoah paced back and forth. His serpent staff in hand. What to do? His thoughts disturbed him. He was troubled inside his spirit and perplexed at the wisemen and astrologers’ words. But they had been right before.

“These people must be destroyed, or they will take over my kingdom!”

He looked towards his assistant, who was 2nd in command, “Hurry, issue a decree that all newborn Hebrew boys be drowned in the Nile River. We will put an end to their seed once and for all. Now, away from my presence!”

The astrologers tried to speak, but he would not listen.

“Away from me at once!”

 

 

****

Jochebed held her stomach and rubbed the child that lay hidden. She felt sure it was a son because the Holy One had given her a dream. The dream was vivid and the child was well weaned and lovely.  Light shined from his face and in his right hand was fire. The dream had certainly been one to ponder since the decree had gone forth to kill all the Hebrew sons born by throwing them into the Nile. Jochebed was sick of the Nile and Egypt. Although the Nile River was beautiful and excellent for producing fruit and fertile land– for her people it was bricks and mortar and back breaking work with heavy taxing. She was waiting on the promises for her people. She had heard all the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and his son Joseph who rescued her people from the famine, but now her people were in bondage, and the men worked in the hot sun all day building for the Pharoah. She felt the baby kick hard and took a breath.

“Yes, little one, you are ready to come out, but it is not time. You must stay hidden as long as possible. Listen to your Ema.” Jochebed laughed to herself. “A little one that listens?” Ha!

Yocheved felt sure this child was chosen, but what could they do? She was wearing loose clothing and staying out of eyeshot as much as possible. She had told no one except her best friend Elizabeth and the midwives . Thankfully she did not grow as large as some of the women and could hide her pregnancy better than most, and she had Miriam, who was not a young woman yet, but mature for her years. Miriam would be helpful to her after the delivery. Aaron was growing up quickly too. He was learning the ways of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and she was proud of her family.

Jochebed felt a sharp pain again and reminisced over her own birth stories. When she married Amram, her mother and father told her that the Holy One spoke to them and said to name her Yocheved before she was born. Her name meant the Holy One’s Seed. This had been weighing on her as there had been whispers among her people that the heavens were revealing one who would free her people from slavery, and the grips of Egypt. Could I be carrying that child? She had thought of her name and mostly just assumed every one of her children was Yahweh’s seed because she gave her children to Him when they were born, but now she pondered with wonder. Her husband had told her, “Jochebed, I feel more and more certain the child in your womb is anointed to do something so great and so difficult, the adversaries will try and take  his life. We must protect him. He is to be our main concern.”

Jochebed was six months pregnant and unsure how much longer she could conceal her pregnancy. She wondered why she felt so strongly that her children were leaders that would change the lives of her people. It’s silly she thought to herself. All mothers probably feel this way.

“Miriam, can you fetch me some rushes, palm leaves, and grasses. We must start making a bed for your brother, and it needs to be pitched and sturdy.

“Ema, how do you know it’s a brother? I was hoping for a baby sister, but brothers are nice.”

“Miriam, I just know. The Holy One has spoken to me. This child has a special calling but so do you, Miriam, and you will make beautiful music through song one day, and all the generations to come will sing the song of Miriam.”

Miriam held the words of her mother in her heart and pondered them. Miriam had been the first to lay her hand on her mother’s belly and whisper, “This child will save our people from bondage.”  Her mother had felt the presence of the Holy One, and the baby in her womb had leaped. It was a moment Miriam would never forget.

“Oh, Ema, you make too much of me. May it be so as you have said, Ema. I will go collect the reeds as you wish.”

Miriam’s dark raven hair and lovely eyes sparkled at her mother.

“Don’t do too much, Ema. I will take Aaron with me. Now, go rest.”

“I am so blessed to have you for a daughter, Miriam. Jochebed squeezed her hand as she shooed Aaron out the door with his sister.

****

“Amram, it’s coming!” Wake up, Abba. Yocheved shook her husband, who was snoring rather loudly.

“Quickly, light the candles and the oil lamp, Abba.”

Amram walked to the water pitcher and splashed some in his face before lighting the room.

“Are you sure, Ema?” This seems relatively early, and your belly is not large like with Aaron.”

“Abba, I know these things.”

Yocheved sucked in air and grimaced from the sharp contractions pulsing through her back.

“Hold on, little one, she whispered.”

Abba, go wake Miriam, get the towels, and heat some water. She will need a knife and some twine. Now, go do as I say.” Amram bent over his lovely wife. Her face was tan, and her skin was so smooth to the touch of his hand. He looked into her beautiful brown eyes, touch her cheek with his hand, and then kissed her forehead.

“Ema, we will trust the Holy One. He will protect us.”

Amram tapped his daughter on the arm and made a shushing sound.

“Shhh, tihiyi besheket bevakasha.”

Miriam opened her eyes and tried to focus, but it was dark, and the stillness of the night was made aware to her. Although she was almost 8 years old, she still was not comfortable with the darkness.

“What is wrong, Papa?”

“Your Ema is in labor, and she needs your help. Now get dressed and prepared as we have been rehearsing for this moment. You will do fine, now go to Shifra and Puah, and be as quick as possible. Remember to walk softly.”

“Yes, Abba. I will go now.”

Miriam rubbed her eyes and lit a candle. She threw on a dark shawl, opened the door to their home, and walked briskly to Puah’s door, and tapped on it softly. The woman was startled but could make out Miriam’s face by the candlelight through the window.

“It’s time, Miriam whispered.”

“I’ll go wake Shifra, Miriam. Go back home and be with your mother.”

“Yes, Puah, I will. Please hurry. I’m scared. I think it is too early for the baby, and I’ve only seen my brother’s birth, and I was younger then.”

“It will be fine,” Puah said with great faith. “Now run along, hurry.”

Miriam hurried in the darkness back home, her shawl covering her, and her candle, as she followed the light step by step until she reached her house.

“It is done, Papa. They are coming. How is Ema?”

“Miriam, she is having labor pains closer together now. Go sit with her, please.” Amram pulled on his beard, a nervous habit he had acquired of late.

Miriam walked into the room quietly. Droplets of sweat were pouring down her forehead. Her hair was matted and stuck to her face.

“Oh, Ema,” Miriam said, as she wrung out a cool cloth and laid it on her head.

“What can I do, Ema?”

Yocheved took a deep breath through her nostrils and exhaled slowly.

“Thank you, Miriam,” she whispered. “Please pray for the baby and our family. You are a treasure to your Ema.”

Jochebed reached for her daughter’s hand and held it, but suddenly the next contraction began to overtake her. She did not realize she had a death grip on poor Miriam.

“Ema!” Jochebed released her hand and clenched her teeth together.

“Breath in and out, Ema. It’s okay.”

Jochebed wished she believed her words, but she worried that their voices would awaken others, and they might possibly hear her screams or, worse, the cries of her newborn taking his first breath.

About that time, she heard more voices. Puah and Shifra had arrived.

“We’ve got this, Miriam, but we would love for you to stay and help?”

“Of course, I want to be here with my Ema and see the baby, said Miriam delightfully. And you should know the labor pains are getting harder.”

The midwives inspected Jochebed. After a few whispers they spoke in unison.

“Come, Yocheved, we need to get you on the birthing stones.”

The stones were stacked in the floor now and raised Yocheved to more of a squatting position.

“Now when the next contraction comes, Yocheved, you know what to do, push and push hard.

Yocheved was almost passing out from the pain. Her daughter kept wiping her brow tenderly, and she was thankful for the midwives. She tried to smile as the pain eased.

“Thank you, Puah and Shifra. You are dear to me.”

“As you are to us,” said Shifra, taking her hand.

“May the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob be with you and protect you and this child,” said Puah, brushing Yocheved’s hair from her eyes.

Another contraction was coming harder than before, and Yocheved bit down on her lip and pushed with much strength.

“The baby is crowning, said Shifra,” who was in a kneeling position. Keep pushing Yocheved.”

Yes, keep going, Ema!,” said Miriam.

Yocheved felt another wave of pain shoot through her spine and lower back and forgot to breathe. She gritted her teeth and felt the baby coming as the midwives were bringing him forth. He opened his mouth and let out a cry into the darkness.  Suddenly the room lit up, and the glory of Adonai filled the room. Amram entered holding Aaron’s hand, and he and Miriam and the midwives fell silent. The premature babe was resting on Yocheved’s chest covered in a towel. Yocheved held her son as the women cleaned him up and cut the cord.

“He is so beautiful and yet so tiny,” Miriam said.

“He looks as if I could fit him in my hand,” said Amram, holding his hands up and grinning from ear to ear.

“No Egyptian will throw my seed in the Nile. The God of my fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will protect my seed!”

“May it be so, Abba,” said Yocheved in a weakened voice. Soon they all gathered around the bed, each looking upon the baby boy with such love and joy.

“How will we keep such a beautiful gift hidden, thought Amram. “Oh, Great and Mighty One, Creator of All, thank you for this precious life. May he save his people from this harsh bondage of Egypt. May he bring us up out of here!”

 

I leave you with a lovely Poem spoken over a child at birth:

Welcome, welcome to this breathtaking world. We have been waiting for you. Waiting to see your beautiful face, to hear the sound of your cry, to kiss you, hold you, rock you. You are the fruit of our love, of our hearts, of our souls.

 

We have prayed for this day, and now it is here. But no amount of anticipation could have prepared us for you. You are a miracle. You are a gift from God. You are ours.

 

May God watch over you in love and bless you with health. How can we express our gratitude to You, God? You have sent us a perfect blessing.

 

Thank You, bless You, Source of all life.

 

Amen. (Rabbi Naomi Levy).

Sources: all name definitions taken from Abarim Publications.

That Moses was born three months early is a rabbinical story found in several teachings.