Rabbi Jodie Gordon
Parashat Shemot: January 13, 2023
The Burning Bush: Que Sera Sera
This week, we begin a new book of Torah, stepping into the next part of the story of our people, as we begin the book of Exodus— or Shemot, in Hebrew.
There’s something about the timing of this portion that feels ‘just right’ for the time of year in which we find ourselves. The book of Exodus opens, and there is this unmistakable feeling that just by turning a new page, we have begun something new: the story continues, in a new and different time, in a place that is the same and has changed.
There’s something ephemeral about this whole first parashah of this second book of Torah: on the one hand– we know where we are.
Still in Egypt.
וַיָּ֥קׇם מֶֽלֶךְ־חָדָ֖שׁ עַל־מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־יָדַ֖ע אֶת־יוֹסֵֽף׃
A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph. Everything has changed. Having closed out Genesis last week with the death of Joseph, we open Torah this week to find that time has marched on— and here we are.
A new king. A cruel decree to kill Israelite babies— two brave midwives, and then: Moses. We meet Moses, and the shift in the narrative is clear.
Parashet Shemot is rich in story and metaphor— but there’s one moment, a line in particular that stands out to me as a rich reminder for us, in our moment today.
While out tending to the flocks of his father in law Jethro, Moses comes to Horeb, the mountain of God.
A messenger of God appears—
וַיַּ֗רְא וְהִנֵּ֤ה הַסְּנֶה֙ בֹּעֵ֣ר בָּאֵ֔שׁ וְהַסְּנֶ֖ה אֵינֶ֥נּוּ אֻכָּֽל׃
Moses looks— and sees a bush in flames, burning unconsumed.
Moses can’t look away— he exclaims that he must examine this miracle closer when all of a sudden, God calls out to him from the bush, מֹשֶׁ֥ה מֹשֶׁ֖ה — Moses, Moses!
And Moses says, hineni.
The moment is remarkable: it’s the beginning of a deep and complicated relationship between God and Moses that will carry us across pages of the story of the Jewish people.
“I am the God of your father’s [house]—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
And יהוה continued, “I have marked well the plight of My people in Egypt and have heeded their outcry because of their taskmasters; yes, I am mindful of their sufferings.
I have come down to rescue them from the Egyptians and to bring them out of that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey…Come, therefore, I will send you to Pharaoh, and you shall free My people, the Israelites, from Egypt.”
God makes quite an introduction.
In this moment of encounter and introduction, Moses looks to God, and asks:
When I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers’ [house] has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is [God’s] name?’ what shall I say to them?”
Ehyeh asher Ehyeh.
I will be, that which I will be.
The answer’s not ours to see. Que sera sera.
In a parashah called Shemot— literally called “names”, God offers an enigmatic name; a self-description that is singular in Torah.
If God is a mirror for human nature— I think I can understand something about Moses’ question and about God’s answer. Even after all of those formal introductions as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses needs more, even if he can’t quite put finger on it. What is your name— what will I tell the people about you?
In this moment, God’s answer distills something important for me: sometimes, we cannot control what comes next.
But when we are fortunate, we can trust that what will be,
will be what must be.
For me, this is a powerful lesson at this cold and sleepy time of year.
On New Year’s Day— just 13 days ago, I got into a funny conversation over text with three of my best friends. This is one of those groups of friends where after having been friends 25 years, we’ve got some patterns— some predictable and careworn conversations that we return to again and again.
Every year on New Year’s Day, one of those friends sparks a conversation on New Year’s resolutions.
I thought I would be a bit renegade this year, and be the one to start the conversation, proudly sharing that with the help of the Goodreads app, I was doing the 2023 reading challenge, setting a goal for myself of reading 50 books solely for pleasure this year. The conversation that unfolded from there was like a cozy blanket: familiar and comforting, as each friend was most fully themselves— from Jenny with the goal to swim 100 miles this year, to the epic list that Becca shared with goals ranging from cooking 25 new recipes to a birdwatching challenge of spotting 100 species of birds. Molly’s list included working on her Hebrew, meditating more, and getting ready to welcome a new baby. Everyone was so wonderfully themselves. Including me, I realized— feeling I had almost betrayed myself with a reading goal that might be misconstrued as a new year’s resolution. You see— I just can’t get into the resolutions thing.
I’m not sure what it is exactly– the timing is definitely a part of it. I’m more of a September/October kinda gal when it comes to making goals or commitments for myself. There’s something about this time of year that feels not quite right when it comes to charting courses and committing to new paths.
I’ve been meditating on that feeling for the last week or so, ever since that exchange with my friends. What is it about this time of year that actually feels all wrong for resolutions? In fact— i would argue, it is a time of year that feels best suited for letting go of control— for quieting down, and seeing what emerges without boxes to check off. The turn of the calendar year for me feels like a time to turn inward. A time for wintering— which Katherine May who wrote a beautiful book called “Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times” describes as a way to get through tough times by chilling, hibernating, healing, re-grouping. "Doing these deeply unfashionable things — slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting — is a radical act now, but it is essential," she writes.
Perhaps, there is a shared message for this moment to be found in Torah, and in the season itself.
Created in the image of God as we are, I too want to say Ehyeh asher Ehyeh. I will be who I will be. In that moment at the burning bush, God offers Moses a pathway in; rather than promises of what God will do, or how they will be in relationship together— God’s response is one of openness: to seeing what unfolds.
There are scholars who teach that Ehyeh, the name of God revealed at the burning bush, is the deepest divine name according to the Kabbalah. Ehyeh— unlike YHVH, or Adonai, distills God to God’s essence.
Torah offers us just this moment: this refraction of holiness in the beginning of a new season in the life of the Jewish people. This moment– illuminated by fire, offers me a mantra for this new season in our lives.
Ehyeh asher ehyeh.
Perhaps that should have been my offering into the annual conversation about New Year’s resolutions with my friends. Just to be— and to know that what will be, will be. That feels like the spiritual posture for this season.
Katherine May describes this posture as a shift of attention away from the direct ambitions of the rest of the year, and rather— as a time for revving her engines.
So, perhaps— if you’re not the person with the list of resolutions a mile long, this is the model of Divine inspiration for you. God knows there is work to be done: challenges and trials ahead for God, Moses, and the Jewish people. But in this moment— it is enough to know that will be, will be.
May this season be our blessing and our teacher.
May that which is meant to emerge, emerge.
And that which is meant to fall away, fall away with grace.
Nih’yeh asher nih’yeh. We will be, what we will be.