Noticing the 53rd Card by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


The Seneh vs. Ma’amad Har Sinai

Ma’amad Har Sinai, the Sinaitic Revelation, was undoubtedly a grand event. Shemot 19:16 captures the power of that great moment in Jewish history: “And it came to pass on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a horn exceedingly loud; and all the people that were in the camp trembled.” By contrast, the revelation at the Seneh, the burning bush, of Shemot Perek 3 is surprisingly modest. Hashem’s introduction to Moshe Rabbeinu is most certainly a great moment. It is very surprising that it was conducted in such a low-key manner.

Three Classic Solutions

The classic Meforashim explain that Hashem was communicating visual messages to Moshe Rabbeinu through this revelation. Rashi (Shemot 3:2 s.v. Mitoch HaSeneh) explains that Hashem chose a modest presentation as a means of showing that He empathizes with the plight and suffering of the Jews in Mitzrayim. An analogy can be drawn to families making a wedding during in 1944. While a wedding is undoubtedly a most joyous occasion, the suffering of European Jewry would incline families to make a much more modest affair than in normal times.

Chizkuni (Shemot 3:2 s.v. VeHaSeneh Einenu Ukal) explains that the fire represents the Egyptians and the burning bush symbolizes the Jewish People. The message communicated is that just as the fire does not consume the bush, so too the Egyptians will not succeed in their efforts to destroy the Jewish People.

A third approach, emerging from Rashi to Shemot 3:12 (s.v. Lecha HaOt), is that the burning bush represents Moshe Rabbeinu. Hashem communicates to Moshe Rabbeinu that just as the burning bush is not consumed since it is performing God’s will, so too Moshe will survive his encounters with Par’oh since he will be performing God’s appointed task (Shelichut).

Rav David Fohrman’s Approach – Noticing the 53rd Card

Rav David Fohrman develops a most interesting approach (

The fact that the bush was burning and not being consumed was a difficult miracle to notice. What exactly is it about that sight which makes it difficult to notice? Well, the first one is the element of time. How long do you have to look at a burning bush before you notice that the bush isn't being consumed? Pretty long time. But even if you look at it for a long time, you still might not notice it. And there lies the key. Why wouldn't you notice it?

The answer is: because that's not the way bushes work. Bushes always get consumed eventually when they burn. And because it's not the way bushes work, even if your eyes see the bush remaining intact despite the fire, your mind might not necessarily except what your eyes say. Let me explain what I mean by that.

A while ago, a social psychology experiment was conducted. It involved college students, who were asked to look at playing cards and identify which cards they were seeing. So, they were shown a whole bunch of playing cards - an eight of spades, a three of hearts, five of clubs; except, they were show these kids a three of hearts and one of the hearts have been erased with whiteout. So, we want to see how the kids would identify this card.

So, they did this experiment with hundreds of kids, and every student got to look at the cards for 5/6/7 seconds. And the experiment was what would happen once they got to the anomalous cards. When they got to the three of hearts with only two hearts, how did the kids identify it? Turns out, about half of them identified that there's a three of hearts. About half of them identified it as a two of hearts. But no one said, "There's no such card like that on the deck, there's something wrong with that card." They got to look at this card for 5/6/7 seconds and no one saw what it really was. Their eyes could see what was there, but their brains couldn't accept what their eyes were seeing.

Each one of those students came to that experiment with a certain preconceived notion in their minds. The deck contains only 52 cards, and what they saw was a 53rd card; card that's not in the standard deck. But their brain didn't accept the possibility of a 53rd card.

So, what happens when your eyes see something that doesn't fit your preconceived notions. You take the round peg and we smash it into the square hole. By golly! It's either going to be the three of hearts or it's going to be a two of hearts, but I'm going to make this fit; and you don't even realize you saw something anomalous.

When you see things that burn, the thing that's burning always gets consumed. That's why this miracle was so hard to notice. Even if you had the luxury of time, even if you could look at it long enough, you wouldn't always see. That was the final test. Moses had to be someone who could see not with his eyes, but accept with his mind what his eyes saw.

Moshe Rabbeinu passed the test with flying colors: Shemot 3:4 records, “Hashem saw that Moshe went to investigate [the burning bush that was not being consumed] and Hashem called out to Moshe Rabbeinu.” Moshe did notice the proverbial 53rd card, proving his worthiness to be the recipient of divine communication and the leader of the Jewish People. Moshe Rabbeinu would be entrusted to teaching us how to notice and appreciate Hashem’s miracles. Moshe Rabbeinu noticing the subtle miracle of the Seneh proved that he could be the one to teach us to notice and appreciate the subtle involvement of Hashem in our world. Many, if not most, people would not take notice of the miracle of the bush that is not consumed. Moshe Rabbeinu was not like most people, and he set an example for generations to come.

The Bush that is not Consumed – Why Does the Persecuted People Survive and Thrive?

Every intelligent person should be asking a question similar to the one posed by Moshe Rabbeinu, “Why is the bush not being consumed?” regarding the miraculous survival of the Jewish People.

One such intelligent observer is Rav Warren Goldstein, the eloquent chief rabbi of South Africa, who writes (

These are indeed days of “miracle and wonder.” Some 250 years ago Rav Yaakov Emden wrote that the miracles performed by G-d to ensure the survival of the Jewish people throughout the many years of exile are even greater than the awe-inspiring miracles of the Exodus from Egypt – the ten plagues, the splitting of the sea, the manna falling from heaven and the Clouds of Glory. Jewish destiny defies the normal laws of history.

By any logical and rational assessment, we should not exist as a separate, identifiable people after almost 2,000 years of exile, dispersion and persecution. But G-d’s plan for us rises above the limitations of the physical world. At the heart of His plan is His Torah.

The miracle of the rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel, which we have been privileged to witness in our time, is a remarkable endorsement of the prescient words of Rav Yaakov Emden. Torah is flourishing once more, with the great yeshivas of Europe re-established in Israel, America and all over the world; Ponivezh, Mir and Gur are alive and thriving once again[1].”


Every intelligent person should ask, “Why is the State of Israel not consumed?” and “Why have the Jewish People survived and thrived despite relentless and brutal oppression and attacks?” Moreover, extraordinary events should not be glossed over and go unnoticed. If one learns that hundreds of missiles were fired by Israel’s enemies and little damage is done, he must respond. When hearing Prime Minister Netanyahu announce in his September 2016 address to the United Nations General Assembly that Israel is “punching two hundred times its weight in cyber”, we should notice God’s hand. Following the example set by Moshe Rabbeinu we must wonder, “Why does the normal course of events not happen with regard to the Jewish People?” Asking this type of question is an excellent first step in forging a deep connection with Hashem, Torah and Am Yisrael.

[1] A beautiful short video presenting Rav Goldstein’s thoughts is available at Included in this video are the following thoughts: "In our lifetimes, we have witnessed some of the most remarkable miracles of Jewish history," "After the devastation of the Holocaust, a rational observer could have said, 'that is a death blow for the Jewish people. They're finished. What sort of future can there be?'"

"Yet within three years of that, Jewish sovereignty is established in the land of Israel. In 1948, on a tiny strip of land, six hundred thousand Jews joined by millions of Holocaust survivors had to ward off ferocious attacks by enemies on all sides - and did so in one military victory after another.

"With great miracles and signs and wonders... The reunification of Jerusalem, the recapture of the Temple Mount. And in the midst of all of these military dangers, absorbing millions of immigrants from all over the world... from Russia, from Ethiopia.

“Building a thriving economy… becoming leaders in technology and medicine – and all fields of human endeavor,” "What a remarkable divine miracle from Hashem before our very eyes!"

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