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An Angel of G-d appeared to Moses in a blaze of fire from the bush. He saw… the bush was burning in fire, but the bush was not consumed (3:2).
The Midrash (Ex. Rabba 2:5) says that G-d's angel appeared in the form of a bush rather than as a tree to show that G-d is with His People when things are bad, in times of trouble. It may also be that the fire represented the Egyptians: as much as they afflicted them, so the Israelites became more numerous (1:12). Combining both, the burning bush summed up and symbolized the situation of the suffering Israelites. The Egyptians were doing what they could to destroy the growing but helpless Israelite population, but they were prevented by the Almighty's miraculous intervention.
This idea of G-d being with the Israelites in all their trials and tribulations was then conveyed to Moses on a larger scale. G-d said to him that he was to be introduced to the Israelites as Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh. The Midrash (ibid, 3:6) understands the message of this phrase to mean that in the same way that G-d was with His People in their painful formative period in Egypt, so He will be always be with them in bad times way into the future. Thus the symbolism of the burning bush is not for one particular instance, but an eternal message. It is a statement of G-d's relationship with the Israelites. They will always survive as a people through His protection against overwhelming odds.
This phrase Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh is difficult to translate into English. Literally it is "I will be as I will be", but it has been frequently rendered as "I am as I am". According to this explanation "I am as I am" seems the more accurate interpretation - (putting Ehyeh into the imperfect tense conveying timelessness - past, present, and future) as it conveys the eternal nature of G-d's relationship with His People. Indeed our history has shown that even in our darkest hours we have survived as a unit if not always as individuals. Persecutors, many of them world-ranking great powers have come and gone, but the Israelites, the "smallest of nations" (Deut. 7:7) have survived. As we say in the Passover Hagada: "…in every generation they rise against us to destroy us, but the Holy One saves us from their hands".
The S'forno similarly renders the response to Moses' question "What is G-d' name?" as "I am that I am", but extends "I am that I am" to relate to the whole of humanity, and specifically to the Egyptians.
For G-d's very "being" with the Earth is in the role of positive creator. He loves all forces and initiatives that are constructive, ratify life, advance the Creation and bring it towards Him. Indeed, the S'forno several times stresses the concept of universal man, who when acting in harmony with G-d, falls under Yismach Hashem Bemaasav "G-d delights in His creations" (Psalms 104:31, see S'forno to Gen. 6:6).
By contrast, the Egyptians' relentless persecution of the Israelites was destructive and wasteful. In presenting G-d to the Israelites as "I am that I am", Moses was telling them that He was on their side. G-d was heeding the suffering that the Egyptians imposed on the Israelites as a violation of His entire relationship with the creation. Destructive, not constructive. Undermining the creation, rather than promoting the creation. G-d's presenting himself as "I am that I am" means that He will not tolerate powerful civilizations undermining vulnerable people.
The "I am that I am" aspect of G-d is just as relevant today. In planning an enterprise or business venture, a person should ask: will this advance humanity or will the wealth generated go at the unjust expense of other people? Anything whose overall impact is negative would be in opposition to G-d's very being that requires people to assist the creation as builders, and not as destroyers.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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