Weekly Torah Commentary – Shemot January 5, 2017

Torah reading:  Exodus 1:1 – 6:1

Haftorah reading: Isaiah 27:6 – 28:13

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.  Exodus 3: 1-6

Just like every other day, Moses was tending the flock. The morning was typical, calm, and cool with the dew hanging on the leaves while Moses walked along the path. Perhaps while walking in the still silence, Moses thought back upon his life, and what had led him here. He had grown up around the inner circle of Pharaoh’s cohort, raised by the princess as her own, but when he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew he could not contain his rage and committed murder. Moses fled from the comfort, power, and prestige of Egypt because he was afraid. He eventually settled in Midian and married Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro the priest.

Moses was tending the flock that belonged to his father-in-law when he led them beyond the wilderness and came to Horeb (“wasteland”), the mountain of God. Walking along the path, filled with thoughts from the past, Moses discovered a bush on fire, and even though it was blazing, it was not consumed. Rather than continue on his journey, Moses turned aside to look at the great sight, to see why the bush was not being burned up. Then God called out from the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he replied, “Here I am.” The Lord commanded Moses to stay put, and remove the sandals from his feet, for the place where he was standing was holy ground. “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

It was just an ordinary, everyday journey for Moses. A normal routine with no “religious” intentions. He was not going out to find out what God was calling him to do with his life, he was not sitting in the great temple of Jerusalem, he was just doing his job.

God chose the mountain in the wilderness as the place of revelation and change for Moses’ life. The encounter took place far and away from the sights and sounds of the religious community. This holy moment took place in the least likely of situations and locations.

A burning bush appeared in the wasteland, but the fire did not consume it. Moses was not frightened away from the bush, nor was he repelled by the sight of something strange, but instead he was drawn toward it. His curiosity propelled him forward, not for religious reasons, but because it was unknown.

God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, loves to make use of human curiosity for his own purposes. Curiosity often leads to discovery, new life, and new vision.

Moses was the one who ran away from familiarity into the unknown. He had left behind his family and calling in Egypt because he feared for his life. He escaped to the place of Midian, found a wife, and a new calling and was settled. It happened in the ordinary and mundane moment of routine life that Moses was jolted into a new reality.

God is the one with the initiative in the situation. Moses was not begging on his knees for God to enter his life, instead it is God who confronts Moses and calls him to a task.

If the story of Moses and the burning bush is to come alive for us today, then we must prepare ourselves to be encountered by the living God when we least expect it.

Being called by God into a new season of your life is not something that applies only to clergy, nor is it something that happens exclusively in worship. We are all called in one way or another to live faithful lives for the honor and glory of God, whether we are teachers or students, engineers or musicians, writers or mathematicians. We are given incredible opportunities to respond to God’s calling in manifold ways in our daily lives by loving our neighbors as ourselves, by asking the hard questions that other people are afraid to mutter, by looking at the world through the perspective of the Scriptures.

We are not abandoned and left alone. We see how gracious God is toward us in the fact that God confronts us in his incredible holiness. He refuses to let us go our own way when we act and behave as if we were people who do not need His wisdom and instruction.

In Tune with Torah this week:  We, like Moses, are confronted by the Holy One when we least expect it. He searches deep into our souls and knows what we think, what we feel, and what we believe. God is not willing to allow us to wander off and be left to our own perspectives, but meets us in the ordinary and calls us by name: Moses, Moses; Taylor, Taylor, Marilyn, Marilyn, etc.

When God confronts you in the midst of life, how will you respond? Will you continue your journey and ignore the unexpected call? Or will you say, “Here I am, LORD”?

Weekly Torah Comentary – Yitro January 29, 2016

Exodus 18:1 – 20:23


This week’s Torah reading is identified by the name of Yitro, the Hebrew spelling of Jethro, who was the father-in-law of Moses.  In the opening verse, we learn that Jethro, a priest of Midian, has heard about all that God had done for Moses and for the people of Israel who had been enslaved in Egypt.  Even in the days long before internet, radio or TV, news spread all over the region.  Jethro decides to journey to where Moses and the children of Israel are encamped and brings along with him, Zipporah, the wife of Moses and her two sons, Gershom and Eliezer.

Now these four individuals – Jethro, Zipporah, Gershom and Eliezer – had not witnessed the miracles of God.  They didn’t see for themselves the plagues inflicted on Egypt nor the parting of the Red Sea for the Israelites and the destruction of Pharaoh’s army by that same body of water.  They only heard about it – but that was enough.  They believed the testimony that reached them and the ancient Rabbis opine that their faith in what God had done was all the more precious precisely because they had not ‘seen’ but believed. And isn’t that what FAITH is really all about?

If we only view the Exodus through the eyes of the Israelites who experienced it, we don’t get the full picture.  The faith of Jethro, Zipporah and the two sons must be included for it speaks directly to us who also were not present on that first Passover night.  It was not given to us to closet ourselves in a home whose firstborn child was spared because our parents obeyed the command of God through Moses to smear the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorway.  It was not our lot to hear the wails and screams of Egyptian parents when they discovered their firstborn shrouded in the coldness of death.

Yet because, like Jethro, we believe, our faith is indeed precious in God’s sight, as a later prophet, Habakkuk wrote, “The righteous shall live by faith.” 2:4  And of Abraham it is written that his faith was accounted to him as righteousness when he believed God’s promise of a son, even in his old age.

After Jethro arrived, Moses sat with him and told him in detail all of the wonders that God had performed for Israel.  Now, remember, Jethro was already a religious man – a priest of his own people.  But confronted with the works of the Hebrews’ God, his gods were exposed as non-gods and he worshiped the One True God.

This is their first meeting since Moses asked permission from Jethro to return to Egypt some time earlier. Have you ever wondered what Jethro thought back then? Did Moses have illusions of grandeur? Was he crazy? Wasn’t it a bit unlikely that he, who cared for Jethro’s sheep, was going to set free a nation of slaves? 

If Jethro thought those things, perhaps he also thought of his first meeting with Moses, after that ‘Egyptian stranger’ had protected Jethro’s daughters from ‘hoodlums’ trying to harass them.  We can surmise that a good relationship developed between Moses and Jethro through those forty years that Moses not only worked for Jethro but also became his son-in-law.  Whatever had transpired before now, it is clear that Moses and his father-in-law treated each other with great respect.

The next day, Jethro observes Moses spending long hours listening to and resolving disputes between the Israelites and proceeds to offer advice to his son-in-law.  Oh, dear! We all know how unsolicited advice has ruined many a ‘good’ relationship, don’t we?

Exodus 18:24  Moses listened to his father-in-law’s advice and followed his suggestions.

Another great example from the life of Moses. What he did not say is as important as what he did say – and do.  He did not say ‘I already knew that’ or ‘Look, I’ve come a long way since I left your tent, Jethro. I’m leading a nation of over 4 million people!‘ He didn’t protest, ‘The God of Israel spoke with me from a burning bush.  Who are you to give me advice?’

Moses was an exceedingly humble man.  He knew how to accept advice with grace and modesty, a rare quality in any generation. Moses was not a man who thought he had all the answers; he did not resent advice from Jethro, even when he had not asked for it.  I venture to say that after being raised in the palace of Pharaoh, accustomed to wealth and prestige and then banishing himself to the simple life of a shepherd in Midian, Moses had ample time to bring his ego under control, to develop the humility he would need to be an effective servant of God when the time came for him to step into his destiny…at 80 years of age no less!  Great power and a forceful personality are not the distinctive hallmarks of a great leader in God’s eyes.  Humility is.

In Tune with Torah this week:  Giving advice can be a tricky situation; so is receiving it. Are we quick to offer ‘unsolicited advice’ which may actually be just our own opinion about what someone else is doing or not doing?

How do we handle it when someone else gives us advice? Do we resent it? Dismiss it without consideration because of pride, ego?

True humility is not weakness; it is strength of character that manifests in a teachable spirit. That doesn’t mean that every piece of advice you are given is always spot on.  It may or may not be.  But it does mean that you are humble enough to consider what is said, be honest with yourself before God and then decide your course of action without any negative feeling toward the other person.