Many years ago a pyscho-therapist, Maxine Glaz, wrote an article in which she suggested that some people may be so badly damaged by early life abuse that even with therapeutic intervention healing is not really possible for them. The most they can hope for is to learn to cope.
That idea occured to me as I read the Parsha of this week,Shmot, and gained a new insight into the episode of The Burning Bush. The Sages all look for explanations as to why G-d first appeared to Moshe in the vision of a burning bush. The Torah tells us:
"And Moshe was shepherding the sheep of Yitro his father-in-law the priest of
Midian and he guided the sheep into the desert, and they came to the Mountain of
G-d, at Horev. And an angel of G-d appeared to him in the heart of a flame
in the midst of a bramble bush. And Moshe noticed that the bramble bush was
entirely aflame yet the bush was not being consumed. And Moshe said, "I will
turn to see this wonder, why it is that the bramble bush is not being consumed
by the fire.""
The bramble bush, or 'sneh' in Hebrew, with a flame rising from it has become a symbol for the spiritual in art and culture ever since. Yet what does it really symbolize? Why did G-d take this form to initiate the dialogue that led to the redemption from Egypt? Moreover the Torah tells us that Moshe went to see why the bush was not consumed by the flames. Next the Torah tells us, as Moshe approached, G-d told Moshe to take off his shoes because the soil he was on was holy. He then went on to tell Moshe that He has seen the suffering of the Israelites, that He heard their cries. It's time for the redemption. But Moshe never seems to get his original wonder explained. Why did the sneh not burn?
I know their are many wonderful interpretations to this passage. I would like to share what I see, as the Torah speaks to me in this time in my life. Indeed that is the whole purpose of this blog "The Torah and the Self".
We know Moshe left Egypt a fugitive. The Pharoah had placed a death sentence on him for slaying the Egyptian. Yet worse than having been branded a criminal, Moshe suffered heartache from what he saw of his People. You recall, Moshe saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew and saved him by killing that Egyptian. The next day, the Torah tells us, Moshe saw two Hebrews fighting. He intervened telling the one "Wicked man, why are you beating your friend". The Hebrew's response was "Oh so maybe you want to kill me too just like you killed the Egyptian!"
Moshe then and there realized two things. First, that his act of killing the Egyptian was no longer a secret. And, according to our Sages, second, and worse, he came to understand why his brethren were suffering. That they would fight with one another, be so insolent in response to criticism, and perhaps even turn in one of there own people to their oppressors, showed character flaws that made their servitude understandable. When Moshe left Egypt he had all but given up on his People and their future. They were too wounded to heal!
What then did the "Burning Bush" mean? What did is symbolize to Moshe?
The bush was a thorny and misshapen bramble bush. not a flowering growth in alignment. It was knotted and distended. In the world of plants and trees it repersents the compromised and ugly. Yet from this bush a flame was rising. That it might be on fire was no surprise, brush fires are common, and lowly bushes burn first. What surprised Moshe was that it did not perish in the flames. On the contrary, the bush contained the flames. Yet how? How can the lowly bramble, gnarled and malformed, full of thorns, contain the pure and powerful flame a thing of pure spirit and potency?
What Moshe saw he knew was no accident. He was meant to see it. He was meant to see that Israel too, like the thorn bush, so compromised and stunted, can yet contain a flame. They are not too wounded to heal. And why? How?
Hashem answered Moshe's question. As Moshe approached, He said to Moshe, "take your shoes off for the ground you are on is holy ground". It was as if Hashem was telling Moshe "the Bush was not consumed by the powerful flames, despite it's brokeness because it grew in holy soil! Yes it's form is misbegotten. Yes by all accounts the flames should devour it. But because it was nurtured in the holy, despite its form, it can contain the flames and endure."
And then Hashem went on to tell Moshe, "the people's character flaws, that which you experienced that made them too wounded to heal in your eyes, are the result of their affliction. The persecution they suffer turned them into a 'sneh'. Of essence they were born of the holy, their spiritual genes are excellent. Healing, redemption, for them is possible. Like the 'sneh' you see here full of flame and indeed alive, on this very spot the nation of Israel, with its limitations, will come and be aglow with the spiritual flame of G-d, at the time I will give them the Torah."
Too wounded to heal? Not if you contain the spiritual genes of our People and its ancestry. I thought about this as I look around me at the world in which I live.
Jerusalem is the holy city. When Mashiach comes it is here he will come first.
Yet I look at the city and wonder. Is it too late? Did we miss our time? Are we too wounded to heal? Yes Jerusalem is a large city today. the largest in Israel. But it is also the poorest. It seems every third person is begging for money. The elderly and compromised are everywhere. The streets are full of the maimed and broken.
Walking downtown on Ben Yehuda is not like walking 5th Ave. There is no parade of the beautiful people in high fashion and with lilting gaight. No, here downtown one feels the neediness of the society . People here don't dream of basking in the spirit of the Divine. They dream of a relief from pain, food to eat, and the money for their rent. I wonder for whom will Mashiach come? And what will he bring that will be of interest more than a relief from the harshness of life. Is the city too wounded to know the true healing of the spirit perefering instead a hot stove and a good meal?
Is Israel, our country, too wounded to heal? I know the tourist sees the wonder of this great land and its people. But the one who lives here all too often is struck by the smallness of people, not our greatness. Pettiness is the norm. It's oh so rare to hear "thank you" or "I'm sorry". Everyone feels s/he is right and all the time. People shove and push. No one gives way to another. Courtesy seems near extinct. I don't feel good saying this. It hurts. But truth is truth. I have lived other places. And here we are all Jews. Yet aggressiveness is everywhere. Manners and generosity of spirit are near absent. There is no 'win win' model here . Here if I win you lose and if you win I of necessity must lose. And the worst shame is to be thought a 'freyer',, someome who gets taken advantage of. And the politics are a politics of meaness. The ideal gets lost in the personal, even when matters are of national importance. True, in other countries it is much the same. But we are Jews!
All of us Jews! Jews don't behave this way.
Are we too wounded to heal?
When Moshe asked that question G-d answered him in the vision of the "Burning Bush".
When I ask that question I get my answer in the story of Moshe and the message of that very same bush. No! emphatically no! We are not too wounded to heal. Yes we are compromised and malformed, our character needs healing. But the healing is within us.
We contain wondrous genetic material. Who we have become, like for our ancestors, is a product of the hardships we endure. We suffer in Israel through living life forever afraid of what tomorrow will bring. Our anxiety in the face of terror and non-stop threat is crippling. We struggle to find a peaceful night's rest.Who has not lost a loved one or known a loved one lost to friend or family due to war and terror. And our fiscal crisis remains ongoing. We absorbed 10 times our original population in sixty years, most of the immigrants coming from poor countries and with no means of support.In that context our stunted development is understandable. Our ugliness and mediocrity is not who we are. It's who we have become. We can indeed contain the flame of the holy. We can aspire to greatness as individuals and as a people. We can know healing. Mashiach was meant for us!
My 18 year old daughter, who made aliya with me four years ago will in moments of exasperation say, "Dad, what's the point. It's so awful the way people treat each other." I tell her, "That's why you are here. The culture of civility won't change overnight. But it will change. And your influence will help bring that change about."
We are not so different from the generation of our ancestors in Egypt. There is a lot of the 'sneh' in us. Yet like the 'sneh' we are made of good stuff. And like the 'sneh' we can contain and express the pure flame, the holy and good.
Too wounded to heal? I think not! Mashiach where are you?