When Moses Burned Inside the Burning Bush

Rabbi Arthur Waskow & Rabbi Phyllis Berman

When Moses Burned Inside the Burning Bush

By Arthur Ocean Waskow & Phyllis Ocean Berman

Moses chased after the dancing lamb just as it disappeared around the mountainside; tripped, cut his knee, lost one sandal in a bramble patch. He rose hobbling, saw another patch of brambles — burning.

Yelling "Oh my God!" he dashed to clear a firebreak lest flames spread to the other dry thorn bushes on the mountain. His other sandal clattered unheeded off the path. He tripped, fell into this blazing bush, moaning, "Oh my God, my God."

"Stop burning! Stop! You are making my throat burn, raw — Oh God, my throat. Burning. Shame.

"Oh God, I left my people. I ran. I saw them suffering, I burned with anger, I ran, oh God, I ran. My eyes, they should be burning with a vision for their happiness, instead are burning blind and helpless, hopeless.

"My father, Pharaoh, glaring at me. Burning eyes. And my own people with angry, frightened, burning eyes, yelling at me, 'Who said that you could judge between us?' Even then, I told them the God of our fathers sent me.

"They slapped their knees and laughed at me. 'The God of our fathers!' they said. 'Where was He when our fathers knelt to Pharaoh? This God we know and He's no hero. At best He hates us, at worst he forgets us.

"And the women — much worse. They clicked their teeth at me: 'You men! This God of your fathers is useless to us. Will your freedom come from Him? It comes from us! Your mothers and midwives gave you birth when Pharaoh said to kill you. Your sisters drew you from the river, to make it birthing instead of drowning waters.

"'We must have a new birth of freedom, and no father-god knows how to give birth. This God of your fathers — what has He ever said to us? At best He excludes us, at worst He ignores us.'

"Oh, God. My eyes, burning. My throat, burning. Oh God, cool my throat, sweeten my throat, speak through my throat like honey, look through my eyes like falling, cooling tears."

The Voice spoke from the heart, from the earth, from the flames, from the sobbing throat of Moses:

"I was what I was, I am what I am, but I will be who I will be. Yes, I will be who I will be. And so will they.

Ehyeh / I will be asher ehyeh / Who I will be asher ehyeh asher /Who I will be I will be ehyeh asher ehyeh / Becoming I will

asher ehyeh asher / Becoming who I

The flaming bush became a fiery spiral. "God of our fathers, learn how to give birth!

"If You will be reborn, we can be reborn; if You can become, we can become. Yes, we will become who we will become.

"If the womb can convulse and the waters can break, then we can pass through into a new journey. If we can bear the pains of new birthing, if we can live through the pangs to a new life — can You bear to be reborn, can we name You anew for the sake of our freedom?"

"Ehyeh asher ehyeh asher ehyeh asher ..." "I will be who I will be who . . ."

Moses found rivers, oceans, wellsprings of tears pouring down his face. Found his arms inscribing in the air before his heart a spiral, in rhythm with the flames and the words the flames were chanting.

"Slaves can grow to birthing free people. If Pharaoh tries to block their birthing, birth pangs will seize Mother Egypt. They can become who they will become.

"I, my name is Moses, it is both Hebrew and Egyptian. As I am. My loving Miriam and Pharaoh's daughter worked together for my life. My two birthings worked together for my life's sake. Some of the midwives were Israelite and some were Egyptian. The Name I speak must be both Hebrew and Egyptian.

"So what can be Your Name to echo through my throat, Your Name to bring all Your peoples to Your hearing?"

Moses felt the breath rushing through his throat. Heard the breath become a Voice: "Just breathe, Moses. The Name is Yyyhhhwwwhhh, just breathing. The bush breathes out, you breathe in. You breathe out, Pharaoh breathes in.

"I am the breath of life. If you learn my Name is just a Breathing, you will be able to reach across all tongues and boundaries, to pass over them all, skip over them all, dance over them all, for birth, and life, and freedom."

Next to Moses, a lamb tumbled and bahhhhed, licked Moses' naked feet. The fire shook and vanished. The bush was gone. Ashes trembled in the wind, settled to mark a pathway down the mountain. The lamb danced downward upon the path of ashes. Moses, exhausted and exhilarated, limping after the lamb, began to imitate its skipping.

"God only knows where this dance is going to take us," he muttered. He turned to look back at the summit of the mountain. "It's up to You," he shouted. "I have no idea where we're heading. Freedom, what a chance, a dance, we're taking!" And turned to follow, stumbling on the pathway.

Berman and Waskow are the authors of A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven: The Jewish Life-Spiral as a Spiritual Path. They also wrote Tales of Tikkun: New Jewish Stories to Heal the Wounded World, which is a collection of their own midrashic stories like this one. You can order both books through the Shalom Center Website under "Books."

Berman directs the summer program of the Elat Chayyim Retreat Center; Waskow, a rabbi, directs The Shalom Center.

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