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 Commentary — Shoftim August 9, 2013

Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9
“Who is the man who is fearful and faint-hearted? Let him go and return to his house, and let him not melt the heart of his fellows to be like his heart.”

In this week’s portion the Torah commands anyone who is afraid of going to war to leave the battlefield and return to his home because of the negative influence that his fear will have on his fellow soldiers. The Sages derive from this that the basic meaning of this mitzvah is that we are to be very careful to avoid acting in any way that will have a negative influence on others.

Our actions do not take place in a vacuum. We are always being noticed by others, consequently it is our responsibility to constantly be aware of the possible effect we can have on others without even directly communicating with them. Remember the old adage, Actions speak louder than words? When we strive to have a positive effect on our fellowman through our behavior, we become an example that inspires. And when others grow spiritually because of that example, we share in their blessing in Olam Haba (the world to come). Rav Aaron Kotler notes that one who causes others to perform Mitzvot receives incredible reward for his deeds. “one can not imagine the great gain a person receives through this; he merits extra heavenly protection to not stumble in sin and also to a great number of merits, something which would have been impossible for him to achieve through his own free will.”

The greatest way we influence others is through loving them. We make the most important decisions of our lives based on who and what we love. What we might consider as a carefully thought out, logical major decision is never without its emotional aspect for we are emotional beings. Love changes the dynamic of our interactions with others.

Perhaps the second most important way we influence others for good is by listening to them. When we listen attentively, our behavior says to the other person, “I respect you. I care about you.” That, in turn, opens them up to receiving from us, whether in the form of a spoken encouragement or advice or by the example of how we live.

According to Dictionary.com, the word INFLUENCE when used as a noun is defined as “the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others.” INFLUENCE as a verb is “To move or impel (a person) to some action.”

So how do we improve in being a positive influence on others and refrain from being a negative one, as we read in this week’s parsha?

First of all, every person has influence on the lives of those around them. Whether our impact is direct or indirect, it behooves us to realize that no one acts in a vacuum. We are continually influencing those around us one way or another.

Secondly, exemplify personal responsibility and integrity. Be true to your word, be consistent. Be real and be honest. Be faithful to your values.

Thirdly, don’t pretend you’re perfect; you’re not. Take responsibility for your mistakes and learn from them. Don’t make excuses; make corrections. Others will respect you for it.

Fourthly, appreciate and recognize the efforts of those around you and thank them. We all want to be valued and appreciated. Your endorsement also has a ripple effect when a good deed or accomplishment is acknowledged publicly.

Fifthly, work at bringing out the best in others. Let your influence act as a catalyst to spark something within someone else. How many hundreds of accomplished people have noted that a certain teacher or a grandmother or a parent inspired them as a child or a teenager and they give credit to that influence for achievements in later life!

Lastly, care about other people’s feelings. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Influence only qualifies as leadership when you are more concerned with someone else reaching their potential than you are about how their work or action will affect you.

In Tune with Torah this week = on this first Shabbat of the month of Elul, there could not be a more appropriate issue to consider than this one. What kind of influence have I been on others during the past year? What can I do to have a more positive and uplifting influence on those around me in the new year to come?

Shabbat Shalom