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A oul a Never op Burnin
By Yosef Y. Jacobson

Rothchild and the Pauper

Lord Rothchild was dying from a serious illness. A poor Jew comes and tells him that he has the cure.

“What is it "? Asks Rothchild.

”It is simple," says the poor man. "Move to our community and I'm sure you will recuperate."

"How are you so sure?"

"Because no rich man ever died in our part of town, "says the poor man.

The Vision

The inaugural vision in which Moses was appointed to become the molder of the Jewish Nation and its eternal teacher, we should assume, contains within it the essence of Judaism.

Moses, shepherding his father-in-law's sheep in the Sinai wilderness, suddenly sees a blazing thorn-bush. "G-d's angel appeared to Moses in a blaze of fire from amid a thorny-bush," we read in this week's portion (1). "He saw and behold! The bush was burning in the fire but was not consumed. Moses said to himself, 'I must go over there and gaze at this great sight -- why isn't the bush burning up from the flames?'" When Moses approaches the scene, G-d reveals Himself to him, charging Moses with the mission of leading the Jewish people to redemption.

What was the spiritual and psychological symbolism behind the vision of a burning bush?

Human Trees and Bushes

"Man is a tree of the field," states the Torah (2). All men are compared to trees and bushes. Just like trees and bushes, we humans contain hidden roots, motives and drives buried beneath our conscious self. Just like trees and bushes, we also possess a personality that is visibly displayed, each in a different from and shape (3).

Some human beings can be compared to tall and splendorous trees, with strong trunks enveloped by branches, flowers and fruits. Others may be compared to bushes, humble plants, lacking the stature and majesty commanded by a tree. Some individuals may even see themselves as thorn-bushes, harboring unresolved tension and unsettled turmoil. Like a thorn, their struggles and conflicts are a source of constant irritation and frustration, as they never feel content and complete within themselves (4).

All people -- all trees and bushes -- are aflame. Each man has a fire burning within him, a yearning for love, companionship and meaning. Just as the flame of a candle is forever licking the air, reaching upward toward heaven, so too each soul longs to kiss heaven and feel eternity (5).

Yet, for many human trees the longing flame of the soul is satisfied and ultimately quenched by their sense of spiritual accomplishment and success. These are the people that feel content with their spiritual achievements; complacent in their relationship with G-d.

The human thorn-bushes, on the other hand, experience a different fate. As they never become content with who they are, dreaming for a life of truth that always seems elusive, their yearning flames are never quenched. They burn and burn and their fire never dims. Since the ultimate reality and depth of G-d always eludes them, their internal void is never filled, leaving them humbled and thirsty.

With the sight Moses beheld in the wilderness, he was shown one of the fundamental truths of Judaism: More than anywhere else, G-d is present in the flame of the thorn-bush. The prerequisite to Moses' assuming the role of the eternal teacher of the people of Israel was his discovery that the deepest truth of G-d is experienced in the very search and longing for Him. The moment one feels that "I have G-d," he might have everything but G-d.

The Master Key

A story (6):

One year, the Baal Shem Tov (7) said to Rabbi Ze'ev Kitzes, one of his senior disciples, "You will blow the shofar for us this Rosh Hashanah. I want you to study all the kabbalistic meditations that pertain to shofar, so that you should meditate upon them when you do the blowing."

Rabbi Ze'ev applied himself to the task with trepidation over the immensity of the responsibility. He studied the kabbalistic writings that discuss the significance of the shofar and its mystical secrets. He also prepared a sheet of paper on which he noted the main points of each meditation he needed to reflect upon while blowing the shofar.

Finally, the great moment arrived. It was the morning of Rosh Hashanah and
Rabbi Ze'ev stood on the platform in the center of the Baal Shem Tov's synagogue, surrounded by a sea of worshippers. In a corner stood the Baal Shem Tov, his face aflame. An awed silence filled the room in anticipation of the climax of the day -- the piercing blasts and sobs of the shofar.

Rabbi Ze'ev reached into his pocket and his heart froze: The paper had disappeared. He distinctly remembered placing it there that morning, but now it was gone. He searched his memory for what he had learned, but his distress over the lost notes froze his mind. Tears of frustration filled his eyes as he realized that now he must blow the shofar like a simpleton, devoid of spiritual meaning and ecstasy. Rabbi Ze'ev blew the litany of sounds required by Jewish law and returned to his place, an emptiness etched deeply in his heart.

At the conclusion of prayers, the Baal Shem Tov approached Rabbi Ze'ev, who sat sobbing under his tallis. "Gut Yom Tov, Reb Ze'ev!" he exclaimed. "That was a most extraordinary shofar-blowing we heard today!"

"But Rebbe... Why?..."

"In the king's palace," said the Baal Shem Tov, "there are many gates and doors leading to many halls and chambers. The palace-keepers have great rings holding many keys, each of which opens a different door. The meditations are keys, each unlocking another door in our souls, each accessing another chamber in the supernal worlds.

"But there is one key that fits all the locks, a master key that opens all the doors, that opens up for us the innermost chambers of the Divine palace. That master key is a broken heart (8)."


1) Exodus 3: 1-3.
2) Deuteronomy 20:19. Talmud Taanis 7a.
3) Cf. Likkutei Sichos vol. 6 pp. 308-309. Igros Kodesh of the Lubavitcher Rebbe vol. 1, pp. 247-250.
4) See Tanya chapter 15, 27, 29, 30, 31.
5) See Tanya chapter 19, based on Proverbs 20:27.
6) Week In Review (VHH, 1996, edited by Yanki Tauber) Vol. 7 No 51.
7) 1698-1760. The Baal Shem Tov was founder of the Chassidic movement. 
8) This essay is based on a discourse by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), founder of the Chabad school of Chassidism. The kernel of this discourse he received from his mentor, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezrich (d. 1772), who heard it from his teacher, the Baal Shem Tov. 

During a public debate that took place in 1783 in the Russian City Minsk, between Rabbi Schneur Zalman and the great Lithuanian scholars who fiercely opposed Chassidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman explained how Moses' vision of the burning bush served as the nucleus of the Chassidic contribution to Judaism. He pointed out that this quality of an unquenchable flame embodied the uniqueness of the simple Jew who's heartfelt prayer was filled with an Insatiable yearning for G-dliness, vs. the accomplished Torah scholar whose fire has been quenched by his intellectual creativity and innovations (The complete episode around the debate was related by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch in 1942 and published in Sefer HaSichos 5702 pp. 46-47; Kesser Shem Tov, 1998 edition, section b, pp. 19-21).

It would be noteworthy to mention that the 24th of Teves marks the yartzeit of Rabbi Schneur Zalman.

Posted on January 15, 2007
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