Opposite Messages of Fire

28 March 2011

In the book of Shemot (Exodus) there are two interesting passages regarding fire.

The first is presented in the story of the burning bush. “An angel of Hashem appeared to him in a blaze of fire from amid the bush. He saw and behold! The bush was burning in the fire but the bush was not consumed.” (Shemot 3:2) Thus, the miracle is that the fire did not consume the external bush.

The second appears in the plague of hail, one of the 10 plagues that were inflicted upon the Egyptians. “There was hail, and fire flaming amid the hail.” (Shemot 9:24). In this case, the miracle is exactly the opposite; the water (hail) did not consume the internal fire.

In other words, in the case of the burning bush Hashem appears to Moshe (representing the Jewish people) as a fire that doesn’t consume the external bush while in the case of the hail Hashem appears to Pharaoh (representing all the evil people) as a fire that cannot be consumed by the external water.

What is the lesson of the opposite messages?

According to Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, the fire in the burnish bush is Godliness and it is not meant to consume the external physical world. Moreover, someone should not lose himself in Godliness and try to be one with God. This can be seen from the Hebrew words themselves. God’s dwelling presence in this world (shechinah in Hebrew) comes from the same Hebrew word as neighbor (shachen), meaning that like a neighbor you can be close but not merged as one. Thus, someone should not remove himself from the world and try to be one with God by living a meditative life in the mountains. Rather, one should realize that although Godliness is the center and real life force, it must be in harmony with the external physical world and not destroy it. This is the message that God sends to the Jews.

Based upon Hirsch’s explanation of the burning bush, the opposite message to Pharaoh in the hail can be understood. Hashem is saying to all the deniers of Godliness (Pharaoh himself said “Who is Hashem?”) that you cannot destroy Godliness, the real life force. In the specific case of Pharaoh, the water is perhaps symbolic of the Nile, the life force of Egypt.

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