Parashat Shemot describes Moshe’s first meeting with Hashem at the incident of the burning bush. The Pasuk states, “VaYeira Mal’ach Hashem Eilav BeLabat Eish MiToch HaSeneh VaYar VeHineih HaSeneh Boeir BaEish VeHaSeneh Einenu Ukal. VaYomer Moshe Asurah Na VeEr’eh Et HaMar’eh HaGadol HaZeh Madua Lo Yiv’ar HaSeneh,” “An angel of Hashem appeared to him [Moshe] in a blaze of fire from within the bush. He saw, and behold! The bush was burning in the fire but the bush was not consumed. Moshe thought, ‘I will turn aside now and look at this great sight – why will the bush not be burned?’ (Shemot 3:2-3).
The burning bush is obviously a great miracle, but what does it represent? One opinion states that Hashem uses a miracle to appear to Moshe to prove to him that He is actually the Almighty. After all, a miracle seems to be the most effective way of proving that He is God. This explanation takes into account that Moshe has been separated from Am Yisrael for forty years and that even someone of Moshe’s stature needs proof that Hashem is truly all-powerful.
Another approach to the scene is an allegorical one in which the bush represents the Jewish people and the fire represents the Egyptians. By allowing the bush to burn but not be destroyed, Hashem tells Moshe that no matter how terrible the Jews’ experience in Mitzrayim becomes, they will not be destroyed. Just as the fire attacks the bush without actually burning it, no matter how hard the Mitzriyim attack Bnei Yisrael, Hashem will save them. This is an appropriate way to introduce Moshe to his mission of saving the Jewish people and to impress upon him that no matter difficult his situation may seem as he negotiates with Paroh and brings the Makot, he should not give up.
A third opinion also interprets the story allegorically. Similarly, the bush represents the Jewish people, and the fire represents the Mitzriyim. There is, though, a slightly different nuance in the explanation of the actual non-burning. According to this approach, the resiliency of the bush is a metaphor for Bnei Yisrael’s maintaining their Jewish strength and identity in the spiritual wasteland of Mitzrayim. This approach focuses on the fire’s inability to destroy the bush. Hashem is teaching Moshe that the Jewish people should not become like the Mitzriyim by worshipping their idols or following their behavior. The Jewish people should stay true to their customs and beliefs and not let other ones consume them.
The same message applies to us today. We must balance our separation from and integration into society and make sure that though the fire surrounds us, we maintain a degree of separation from the rest of the world.