We’ve once mentioned the Kotzker Rebbe’s comment on Moses and the burning bush. Moses saw the blaze enveloping the bush but curiously the bush was not burning, its wood was not consumed. Moses approached the bush, saying, “…Let me turn away [from the path] and see this wondrous sight, why is the bush not burning?” (Exodus 3:3)
God saw that Moses had turned to see and and He called out to Moses…
The Kotzker notes that God saw that Moses turned aside to see – God saw that Moses took an interest where others had ignored the bush. The bush, says the Kotzker, had always been burning! Many people had passed by, noticed, and went on their merry way. No one thought that the fact that the burning bush has any relevant meaning. To Moses this was a wonder not to be dismissed. He approached and was tasked with the great mission of leading his nation. The bush had selected Moses, the bush was the litmus test of a person concerned not with himself but with the world and his obligation to it.
Our reading this week begins with the introduction of Jethro to the Israelite nation. “And Jethro, the priest of Midian and father in law of Moses, heard all that God did to Moses and to Israel, His people…” The commentaries ask the question – What did Jethro hear that spurred him to join the Israelites in the wilderness? What was so compelling that Jethro would change the course of his life for? Rashi cites two reasons offered in the Midrash. He had heard of the splitting of the sea or of the battle with Amalek. There is a third position in the Midrash suggesting that he heard of the giving of the Torah.
Regardless of what it was that spurred Jethro to come and participate in the journey of the Israelites the Torah stresses here that Jethro heard and came. Everybody heard of these things! The Midrash states that at the time the sea split all bodies of water split, even a glass of water was divided in two. The meaning of this Midrash is that the splitting of the sea was known to the entirety of civilization. It was the Charlie Hedbo extra, appearing on the headlines of all media publications.
Of all the people in the world no one felt compelled to make any life changes, no one had the commitment to truth to give up his cherished lifestyle and creature comforts. No one but Jethro heard and, as a result, came. And we think apathy is a new problem.
It is human nature to seek the path of least resistance, to seek pleasure and avoid pain, as well as commitment and cleaning up after ourselves. It was so notable that Jethro actually responded to these events that the Torah included this in its narrative and there is a Torah portion called by his name, Parshat Yitro.
Jethro is the father of those who are willing to change their lives for the sake of a higher purpose, for the sake of truth. Jethro has led the way, was the inspiration and catalyst for all those who would follow. He taught us to seize the moment.
A story is told of a soldier traveling with his commanding officer on a train. They sat in a seat opposite an attractive young woman traveling with her grandmother. There was immediate chemistry between the soldier and the young woman and they struck up a friendly conversation. After a while the train entered a tunnel and it became pitch black in the train. There was a sound of a kiss followed by the crack of a face being slapped. The train then emerged from the tunnel. The grandmother thought: ‘How rude of the soldier to kiss my granddaughter. I’m glad she slapped him for his impudence. The commanding officer didn’t mind that the soldier had kissed the young woman but was annoyed that she then missed the soldier’s face and slapped his. The young woman was secretly pleased that the soldier had kissed her and sorry that her grandmother had subsequently slapped him. The opportunist soldier smugly felt that he had made the most of the situation, kissing the lovely young lady and also slapping his commanding officer.
Never miss an opportunity.