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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Dovid Campbell

Moshe's Greatest Qualification

“And Moshe said, ‘I will turn aside now and see this great sight. Why is the bush not consumed?’” (Shemot 3:3)

The Torah seems to highlight Moshe's decision to investigate the burning bush. We get a glimpse of his thought process, and the next verse tells us that Hashem “saw that he turned aside to see,” as if this simple act was the reason that Hashem selected Moshe for his mission. But was it really such a meaningful event? Wouldn't a burning bush have caught anyone's attention?

Shemot Rabbah 2:6 presents an interesting disagreement about what Moshe actually did. According to Rebbe Yochanan, Moshe walked towards the bush to get a better look. But according to Reish Lakish, Moshe simply turned his head and glanced. This glance, Reish Lakish continues, is the reason that Hashem chose Moshe to shepherd the nation of Israel. Of course, this still begs the question: What's so special about a glance?

Radal and Eitz Yosef on this midrash explain that Reish Lakish is emphasizing the briefness of Moshe's interaction with the bush. He did not stare, and he certainly did not walk away from his flock. His priority was his duty to his employer, and it was this integrity that demonstrated his worthiness.

Ralbag offers a substantially different explanation of the verse. Moshe did not merely glance but eagerly investigated this strange phenomenon. As the Torah emphasizes, Moshe wanted to understand why the bush was not burning. For Ralbag, the burning bush serves as a single example of Moshe's constant approach to life. His passionate desire to understand the nature of reality brought him to his unique spiritual status, and Ralbag claims that this is a quality we must all emulate.

While integrity and curiosity are by no means contradictory qualities, they require a careful balance. Ralbag might agree that Moshe's devotion to his flock was unwavering, and he only investigated the bush because he was sure of the flock’s safety. The real question is which quality turned Moshe into Moshe Rabbeinu? It is fascinating to consider curiosity as a religious value. In essence, curiosity is an expression of faith. It flows from a belief that there is something worth investigating in this world, that the world is fundamentally meaningful and that we can discover some of that meaning. How might we answer Ralbag's call to imbue our lives with more curiosity? 


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