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"And the bush burned, unconsumed."
It's a very powerful image that really sticks in our minds. Of course, Gd could have chosen something larger and more obvious, maybe a Sequoia Tree burning unconsumed. The rabbis teach us that Gd chose the bush on purpose, to show that Gd has regard for even the lowliest bush.
In those days, only Gd had the ability to make a bush appear to be on fire yet not be consumed in is own flames. Nowadays, any kid with a computer can probably generate the same effect, and experts with these same digital tools can do it rather convincingly, at least on film. And perhaps there are magicians out there who could do it live and make it pretty convincing as well.
We deceive ourselves to think they we can really make a bush burn yet not be consumed by the fire. And on an almost daily, regular basis, we make the same erroneous assumptions about ourselves and our own abilities. No, I don't mean our ability to create digital illusions. I mean our ability to do all the things we do and not find our own substance slowly being consumed.
How many of us joke about all the "type A" people that we know, yet still burn our own candles at both ends? How many of us depend on seemingly inexhaustible supplies of "second winds?" How many of us keep going and going, like an Energizer Bunny, only to discover that, just like the Bunny, our batteries do eventually wear down?
No-we cannot burn ourselves and be unconsumed. Yes, we have a replenishable source of energy. And we do take some time to rest and refresh. Thus we view our body's ability to go on and on as probably higher than it really is. And it's not just a matter of body, but of mind, too.
Burn-out is a real phenomena among human beings. It happens even to those who keep strict regimens of diet, exercise, sleep, study, learning and work. We cannot burn unconsumed. Human life, is, after all, a finite flame.
For those of us with strong religious faith, those of us who burn with inner fire, and who outwardly (or even inwardly) demonstrate this passion, the risks of a burn-out arte even greater. The brighter we burn, the more we are consumed. Sometimes, we are fortunate in that Gd seems to provide those of us who do burn with such passion some measure of sustenance and replenishment. Yet even that cannot prevent us from consuming ourselves.
I haven't taken a real vacation in a very long time. Oh, I have gotten away from my job and my home, but most often to conference and workshops, which, because they are related to topics and issues in my life for which I do burn with passion (like Jewish Education and Jewish Music) are places where I often burn with as much if not more passion than I do at home. Oh, I could make lots of excuses. The most common one being "who wants to go on a vacation alone?" But I'm not here to whine about my middle-aged and single again status. If I don't stop letting my passions burn so much, and don't take a vacation, my flame is gonna burn out far sooner than I'd like it to burn out. Send me a note urging me to take a real vacation soon!
I like being passionate, and like putting that passion in action. It energizes me, yet also drains me. Let me tell you, chairing a conference of Jewish Educators like CAJE requires passion, and lots of it. Even now, these years later, I do believe the effort rewarded me with sustenance to allow my inner flame to keep on burning, but I deceive myself if I believe that it did not, in some small way, diminish an ultimately limited ability to burn without being totally consumed. I didn't and still don't mind giving up some portion of my limited ability to subsist, but I am learning that I might choose wisely and carefully how to do that.
Right after the high of such an activity, there was let down. I chomped at the bit for more responsibilities, more things to do to allow my passions to become actions. Yet, now that time has passed, I realize I needed (and will always need) down time. And I need the ability to wisely choose those activities on which to expend a limited portion of that within me which eventually gets consumed until there is nothing left but an empty husk buried in the ground.
Would that I would follow my own advice. I still have a hard time saying "no." My passions are strong, and they need an outlet. Still, I don't want to exhaust my supply of whatever it is that enables me to translate my passions into actions too quickly. I don't want to be a flare, I want to be a light that burns as long as it can. In order to do so, I do have to pace myself.
Gd can make a bush burn yet not consume itself with the fire. I suppose, if Gd chose to, that perhaps Gd could enable a human being to do so as well. Perhaps many of our great ancestors were beneficiaries of such largesse. Yet even all of them eventually burnt out.
Perhaps Moshe's reluctance to do Gd's bidding stems partially from his recognition, upon seeing the burning bush, that what Gd was asking him to do might cause him to become a bush that burns all too brightly and briefly? With Gd's help, Moshe lived a good long life, all of it full of passion. Is that all Gd's doing, or did Moshe have some hand in it by learning to pace himself? (He does, after all, take Yitro's advice on how to establish a judicial bureaucracy.)
Well, as usual, my musing, being random train of thought, has wandered about in many directions. I'm not even sure I have sight of all the threads enough to tie them neatly together for you, so I won't even try. After all, I'm consuming part of myself just in this effort alone. And I must learn to pace myself, to recognize that only Gd has limitless time and energy.
Well, I guess I can bring this to some sort of semi-satisfactory conclusion. For Gd, in Gd's wisdom, has provided us with one mechanism for insuring we get some much needed physical, emotional and mental rest. It's called Shabbat. I commend it to you as one way to keep yourself from being consumed too quickly.
©2004 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some Previous Musings on the same parasha
5763 - Free Association II
Shemot 5760-Tzaz Latzav, Tzav Latzav
Shemot 5761-The Spice of Life
Shemot 5762-Little Ol' Me?
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