PARSHAS SHEMOS 5775
W. H. Davies
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—
No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance…
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
L'Enfant Plaza is a complex of eight commercial and governmental buildings, as well as an underground shopping mall, built along a traffic-and-pedestrian promenade in Southwest Washington, D.C. Similar to Grand Central Station in New York, there are literally thousands of professionals, bureaucrats, consultants, shoppers, laymen, and stragglers who pass through the plaza every day.
The Washington Post reported that on the morning of Friday, January 12, 2007, a young man wearing a baseball cap, jeans, and a T-shirt, unassumingly walked into the plaza and sat down, positioning against a wall near a trash basket in the middle of rush hour. From a small case he removed a violin. He left the case open with the some loose change inside and began playing.
During the next forty three minutes, 1,097 people passed by (the event was videotaped). Twenty seven people threw in money, totaling $32.17.
It wasn’t until the last few moments that someone recognized him. The passerby had been to his performance a few nights earlier. The musician’s name was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest violinists in the world. Three days before appearing at the station, Bell had played at a sold-out performance at Boston’s stately Symphony Hall, where mediocre seats went for $100. Two weeks later, at the music center at Strathmore, in North Bethesda, he played for a standing-room only audience that was so enamored by his artistry that they stifled their coughs until he completed each movement.
Bell had been hired by the Washington Post to host an experiment to determine the following: “In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?”
During the forty-three minutes that he sat on the floor, the virtuoso played some of the most complex pieces of classical music, including Bach’s Chaconne (a fourteen minute musical progression that only the most adroit musicians can play), and Schubert’s Ave Maria.
Bell insisted on using the same violin he always uses for his performances, a 3.5 million dollar violin handcrafted in 1713.
Shortly after his ‘performance’ at the plaza, Bell headed off to Europe for a concert tour. Three months later he returned to the U.S.A. and accepted the Avery Fisher prize as the best musician in America. So much for his performance at L’Enfant Plaza.
“Moshe was shepherding the sheep of Yisro… an angel of G-d appeared to him in a blaze of fire from amid the bush. He saw and behold! The bush was burning in the fire but the bush was not consumed. Moshe thought, ‘I will now turn aside and look at this wondrous sight – why will the bush not be burned?’ G-d saw that he turned to see; and G-d called out to him from amid the bush and said, ‘Moshe! Moshe!’, and he replied, ‘Here I am!’”
The event involving the Burning Bush was unquestionably a seminal event, containing portentous symbolism and meaning. Still, there seems to be some verbosity in the Torah’s description of what occurred. As a rule, the Torah minces words, sometimes causing intricate laws to be expounded from a superfluous letter or nuance. It therefore seems enigmatic that the Torah bothers to record Moshe’s rather natural reactive thoughts to what he saw, “Moshe thought, ‘I will now turn aside and look at this wondrous sight – why will the bush not be burned?’” Why couldn’t it simply have said, “He saw and behold! The bush was burning in the fire but the bush was not consumed, so he turned to see“. Wouldn’t the curiosity of any normal person be piqued by such a sight?
The answer is a resounding no! Experience demonstrates that even when people are intrigued, the common person would not invest too much time to investigate and explore what was happening.
Rabbi Nissan Alpert zt’l comments that there is a prevalent misnomer that only deep-thinking philosophers and theologians can truly discover G-d and recognize His Presence. The truth is that any person who is candidly honest with himself (which is no small feat!) can discover G-d in every aspect of life and creation. The reason most people do not reach that level of belief is because we become blinded and deceived by our surroundings.
Moshe Rabbeinu discovered G-d because he was intrigued by the sight he saw and would not ignore it. He realized that there was something unusual happening and he would not allow himself to continue on without probing and investigating it. His declaration, “I will now turn aside and look at this wondrous sight”, demonstrated that he was a ‘seeker’. He saw the world beyond the visions his eyes saw and the sounds his ears heard. Moshe knew that G-d’s Hand was imprinted throughout creation but had to be found.
The Torah records Moshe’s thoughts to demonstrate that one of the most essential traits of a leader is that he must be able to have “transcendent senses”. He must be able to recognize the deeper meanings in all that occurs.
In this regard he followed the lead of Avrohom Avinu whose spirit would not be quelled until he was able to determine and understand how the world came to be, and continued to exist. It was that indomitable quest for truth that led Avrohom to discover G-d, in a world that was satisfied to follow the blind trend of polytheism.
Rabbi Alpert continues that since the genesis of our nationhood, Klal Yisroel has been a ‘thorn in the side’ of the rest of the world. The little bush called Klal Yisroel has been consumed by many fires, including the fires of Communism, the fires of crematoriums, the fires of pogroms, and the fires of inquisitions. Yet, “the bush was not consumed”. We continue to persevere and thrive.
Nevertheless, our triumphs not withstanding, many of our brethren remain distant from the G-d of Israel. By no fault of their own, they remain unaware of the beauty of their heritage and the richness of their traditions. However, although they never had the opportunity to learn more about their people, there is one aspect that even they will be held accountable for: “How did you not notice the Burning Bush was not consumed?” There is no justification for their failure to notice - and ponder - the blatant unnatural survival of a persecuted and hated people. “Why were you not intrigued by this wonder of your people’s survival? Why did it not prompt you to learn more about this wondrous sight?”
The classic opening line of comedians is, “Ever Notice?” Most comedic routines take mundane events and present them from a different perspective in a humorous manner, utilizing a great deal of exaggeration. We need to ask ourselves if we, “Ever notice?”
This past summer in Eretz Yisroel, amidst all of the painful tragedies that occurred, there was literally a revelation of open miracles occurring. Thousands of rockets were fired at Jewish homes and villages. In a normal situation G-d forbid the numbers of casualties and damage would be staggering, [May G-d continue to protect His People.] The Bush is on fire again, yet it will not be consumed.
A wealthy man was stuck in an elevator on the eightieth floor. After a few hours he realized that no one even knew that he was stuck. As he contemplated how he could get others to realize his predicament, he discovered a small hole in the floor of the elevator. He began to stick loose change into the hole hoping that people at the bottom would see money falling and realize that someone was up there. After he threw down the money he put his eye to the hole. He was shocked to see people pocketing the money and walking on. People probably didn’t pay much attention to loose change, he thought, so he began to throw down dollar bills. First he threw down singles, then fives, tens, and eventually hundreds. He threw down literally thousands of dollars, before he again bent down to look through the hole. He was crestfallen; people were still picking up the money, smiling, and walking away. He decided that he was only going to get their attention by doing something drastic. He began pulling out screws and pieces of metal from the elevator and throwing them down. The people below immediately began screaming and pointing at the falling debris. Within a short amount of time he was rescued.
We need to seek out G-d when He send us blessings, and not wait for the bricks to fall from the sky, Heaven forbid.
“I will now turn aside and look at this wondrous sight?”
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 Perhaps the reason this was not discussed more, is because every holy soldier who returns in a casket or suffers injury is a dagger in our collective heart. Our cognizance of the supernatural is marred by our losses. Still, we must recognize the divine Hand.
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