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Chanukah: Why Do We Celebrate?
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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, there was this social psychology experiment. 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 a 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. Why was that quality such an important quality for Moses to have?
Let's stop and ponder this: what was the meaning of the burning bush? We talked before about how impressive or unimpressive the miracle was. But forget that for a moment. Why a burning bush above all things? God could have revealed himself any which way; why choose that?
Moses says an interesting thing when he sees the bush. Madua lo-yivar hasneh, were his words, "Why isn't the bush burning?"
In Hebrew, there's two different words for 'Why': ‘lamah’ and 'Madua’'. Why would a language have two different words for a single idea? Must be, it's not the same idea. What are these different two kinds of 'why'?
Let's start with 'lamah'. Lamah is really a contraction of 'Le', and 'Mah’ - to what. To what end. Where are you going with this? Moses later on, says to God at the Golden Calf, lamah yechareh afcha be’amecha, why are you so angry at these people?" I mean, it was obvious why he was angry about these people; they're dancing around the Golden Calf, but that wasn't Moses's question. His question wasn't 'what happened to make you angry at those people'; his question was, 'To what end - where will this anger go'? His question wasn't about the past, it was about the future. If you carry through on this threat and you destroy the people, what would the forefathers say? What would the Egyptians say? Where does this go? That's 'lamah’' - to what end.
But there's another kind of 'Why'. 'Madua' - related to the modern scientific word 'Mada'. Mada is the word for science. 'Madua' is the scientific kind of 'why'. It's a question about the past. 'What happened in the past to make things the way they are now?' - that's the question Moses asks about the burning bush. "What's the nature of this bush such that it does not burn? What is happening here?" What did Moses see when he asked that question, 'Madua'?
I want to suggest that he made what we might even call a scientific kind of inference. It's hard to talk about the science of the miracle, but bear with me for a moment. What does it tell you about the fire, that the bush is not being consumed? If the bush is not being destroyed by the fire, what does that tell you about where the fire comes from?
Te easiest way to say this, is maybe to take it out of the realm of miracles. Think about a modern analogy. You ever see a gas fireplace? There's these fake logs - logs that don't get burned by the fire. So, let's say you saw a gas fireplace but it was the first time that you've ever seen one of these. You've stood there looking at it long enough to realize - the logs are not being burned; what could you infer? You could infer that the logs are not the source of the fire; the logs are not the fuel, the fuel comes from somewhere else and in fact you will be right. The fuel in this case comes from a gas line. But there weren't any gas lines at the burning bush.
If Moses looks at the bush and sees that the fire is not consuming the bush, and he says, madua lo-yivar hasneh, why isn't the bush burning? The only answer to that is the bush is not the source of the fire. There's a transcendent source for the fire. A source beyond this world. You see there's two kinds of fire - there's the fire we usually see and the fire we don't usually see.
The fire we usually see is a by-product of the physical world; stuff burns and when it burns, we see flame. Flame is ethereal; it’s kind of the least physical aspect of the physical world. We can touch it, we can feel it, you can capture it, you can get too close to it. Usually, that ethereal thing we call fire is a by-product of something that's burning.
But what God was showing Mosha was, 'that's not the only kind of fire there is'. Fire can come from somewhere else; fire can come from outside this world too. Fire can rest upon a physical thing, even if that physical thing is not the source for it. Why is it so important for Mosha to know that? Well, let's go back to why it's important for Mosha to have any of the qualities he was chosen for? Why was it important for Mosha to side with those whose life and welfare were threatened? When does Mosha actualize that part of his leadership set of skills? Probably the greatest moment in history when Mosha actualizes that, is when God Himself wants to destroy the Jews.
God makes a grand bargain with Moses, "The Jews are worshipping the Golden Calf, leave me alone and I'll destroy them." Mosha implicitly ask the question, "And if I don't leave you alone? Will you not destroy them? So, I won't leave you alone. Mecheni na misifrecha asher katavta, if you destroy them, I won't take your bargain. Erase me from the book that you have written." Just as Moses once threw his lot in with a single Jew being oppressed by an Egyptian, not he throws his lot in with the entire Jewish people, shielding them, even if it is God Himself who would seek to destroy them. So, it's like God saying, "That's why I picked you. That's why I needed this from you."
Maybe at that same event, maybe at that same moment in history, Mosha needed the other quality he was being tested about - his ability to see the source of the fire. He needed it because the burning bush wasn't going to be the only time he was going to see fire that didn't consume. He was going to see that exact same thing at a later, crucial moment in history too; at a moment that virtually coincided with the Jews worshipping the Golden Calf. When was that?
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