Bereshit is done. The journey begins with Shemot, the book of Shemot and the Torah portion of the same name. Bereshit was about tribes and families, a personal attachment to God. Shemot moves us into a national identity, eventually moving into a people, united.
But it starts with a moment, when someone paid attention. Well, actually two. First, “God looked upon the Israelites and God took notice of them” (Ex 2:25) and then a few verses later, Moses noticed the bush all aflame that wouldn’t burn up, “I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight; why doesn’t the bush burn up?” (Ex 3:3)
To recap, Moses found himself in Midian, after fleeing Egypt because he’d killed a man. He was in Egypt, remember, because his mom Yocheved had put him in a basket on the river when he was a baby, to save his life. He was later adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the palace. Now, back to our story.
God noticed Israel, and sought out Moses. Moses noticed God and was afraid. He tried to turn away, but was instead held to the spot, in awe. It wasn’t until God was sure Moses was really paying attention that God spoke, “When God saw that he [Moses] had turned aside to look, God called to him out of the bush: Moses, Moses, and Moses answered ‘Hineni…I am here.” (Ex 3:4) At a crucial moment, Moses and God noticed each other turned to each other, establishing a relationship that would continue throughout Moses’ life. But it wasn’t until God was sure Moses was really present that God spoke. And when Moses answered, “Hineni”, it was more than saying, “Here”, like in class when a teacher calls your name. It was “I am HERE”, fully present and engaged.
God had predicted a period of slavery back in Genesis, talking to Abraham (Gen 15:13), and that period was coming to an end. But God did nothing until the people’s cries reached to the heavens. We could ask what took God so long, but that’s for another conversation. Perhaps it wasn’t until the people spoke up, cried out, really noticed their oppression that God could act in return. To do that, God needed a partner on the ground, but one who would be as aware as the situation needed. Moses did notice the sign, the bush. Moses did grasp the situation, and really heard God when he was told, “Take off your sandals, for the place you are standing on is holy ground.” (Ex 3:5)
There are precious few moments in our lives when we are both truly noticed and fully present and engaged. Something made Moses see that bush – he had to turn and look at it. The commentators say that it wasn’t just that he turned his head, but rather, he went in a whole new direction to see it. Life-moments are like that. It’s one thing to notice something and think, “Oh, that’s interesting”, and move on. It’s another to take such note that it makes us change direction, choosing a new life path through the wilderness.
It is our task to be ever attuned to those moments, be ever ready to see the marvelous sights, to say “Hineni…I am HERE.” The fullest relationships, of course, are the ones in which all parties are aware of the sacred ground on which they stand. The most profound moments are the ones when we remove our sandals, that which separates us from feeling the very ground, so we are connected in a real and sensory way to the miracles that make us notice.