top of page

Meeting Around the Bush

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Shemos
Meeting Around the Bush

Cary had it made. He was living the American dream. He possessed whatever money could buy. But somehow, it felt like there was an emptiness within him. Nothing seemed to make him happy. Neither his luxurious home, nor his sport cars or yacht could bring any meaning to his existence. He dressed in fancy clothing on the outside but felt hollow on the inside.

Always eager to try something new, Cary accepted an invitation of some friends to go and listen to a motivational speaker. The event was well attended. It came as no surprise to Cary why this speaker was so popular.

The speaker appeared to be completely put together. He was suave, good looking, intelligent, and funny. But, as the talk wore on, Cary began to grow bored. The only thing that the speaker focused on was how to be successful in business. Cary was already financially successful and did not need any lecturing in this area. Besides, the speaker kept harping on material success which never seemed to satisfy Cary anyway.

Then, suddenly, the speaker threw in a sentence that caught Cary's attention. He said, "It is extremely important in life to be a truth seeker." Cary heard nothing else after that. Somehow, that strung a cord in Cary's heart that kept him in deep thought for the rest of the evening.

On the way home, Cary seemed distant. His friends asked if he was ok. "Of course," came his reply. "Do you want to join us for a couple of beers?" they asked. "I think I'll pass this time."

At home, Cary wondered where to start searching for the truth. Although Cary knew that he had been born Jewish, he never had any formal education. It never dawned upon Cary that Judaism had the answers that he was looking for. On the contrary, Judaism seemed to be old fashioned, archaic, and outdated.

Cary went on line. In the search bar, he typed in, "truth seeking." A number of options popped up. One of them in particular caught his eye. After clicking on it, he beheld one of the most beautiful natural panoramic vistas he had ever seen. It was a picture of a mountain range in the Far East surrounded by a lush forest.

The article underneath spoke about a wise old guru who meditated atop that mountain for years. People would flock to this guru from the four corners of the world to get his advice. The article claimed that this guru obtained the secret to fulfillment, meaning, and happiness in life.

The next thing he knew, Cary booked a flight to a country in Eastern Asia. It's a good thing that Cary was determined because after the long flight, he had to hop on a rickshaw which took him only as far as the outskirts of the huge jungle. From there, Cary was on his own.

Fighting the heat, exhaustion, and some of the most ferocious mosquitoes he has ever encountered, Cary trudged on. Climbing the massive, almost vertical, mountain was difficult for Cary, who was trying to balance his back-pack and equipment.

As Cary pulled himself onto the top of the mountain, he saw an old sage who was sitting on the ground with his legs folded. The man sat completely still with his eyes shut in deep thought while his long white beard blew gently in the breeze. Cary approached the old man and sat on the ground opposite him and waited in silence.

After what seemed an eternity, the sage opened his eyes, studied his new admirer intently for quite a while, and finally asked, "Why have you come here?" A bit shocked by the question, Cary responded, "Don't you know why I came? Doesn't everybody come for the same thing? It is to find out what the meaning of life is. It is to discover the secret to happiness. How could you even ask such a question?"

Shaking his head slightly, the guru said, "You fail to understand the question, my son. I did not ask why you came, I asked why you came HERE."

With a look of confusion on his face, Cary asked, "What do you mean by that?" The guru said, "Let me ask you a question. Aren't you Jewish?"

Now Cary was shocked. "Yes, how did you know and why does that matter?" The guru smiled weakly and said, "I am a pretty good judge of people and their characters. I could tell that you are Jewish."

"But what difference does it make?"

"It makes all the difference in the world."

"Why is that?"

"My dear child, all the teachings of our great masters, including Confucius, are very deep and profound. They impart lessons on morality, correctness, justice, and sincerity. However, none of our teachings can even hold a candle to the teachings contained in your Torah. Judaism has a depth and a breadth which is so completely encompassing that nothing else can compare to it.

Moreover, the great Torah leaders and scholars are much deeper and so much more developed and refined than any of our gurus and authorities. As a matter of fact, Eastern philosophy was influenced by Judaism. When your Patriarch, Abraham, got remarried to Keturah, another name for Hagar, they had six sons together. Scripture says that Abraham sent them to 'the East' and gave them 'gifts.'

Well my friend, this is the East, and we are descendants of those six sons, which makes us descendants of Abraham as well. Some of the 'gifts' which Abraham imparted to them was a philosophy and an approach to living a healthy, balanced, meaningful ,tranquil, and happy life.

Abraham would not divulge the essence of Torah with those six sons because they were not destined to receive God's Torah at Sinai. However, Abraham did transmit to them a diluted taste of true Torah concepts so that they would be able to live peacefully.

Abraham did this for them because, as the father of a multitude of nations, he cared for them. After all, they were his children too, and he loved them. Although Eastern philosophy is a poor substitute for authentic Torah, it is still very powerful.

This way of life has become so important to us that we have come to worship it. As a matter of fact, one of our gods, Brahma, the first god in the Hindu triumvirate, was named after Abraham, as these two names share the same letters.

So, you see, my friend, your being Jewish makes a big difference. Why would you travel half way across the world to find the meaning of life when you have access to the greatest truth in your backyard?

I suggest that you explore your own roots. Go to Israel, study Torah, and you will discover that it will lead you to the happiest and most fulfilling life."

Cary was speechless. Through the eyes of a guru, Cary began to appreciate what he had always possessed in his Jewish heritage. He didn't bother staying in this foreign country for tourism because he felt that time was running out.

He booked a ticket to the Holy Land. After arriving at the Ben Gurion Airport, he took a taxi straight to the Kotel. Maybe it was all the traveling or maybe it was the lack of sleep, but something overcame him and for the first time in his life, Cary broke down crying. As he touched the ancient stones, he could feel the holiness and history behind them.

Realizing that he really didn't know the significance behind the Wall, or anything Jewish for that matter, the one thing he did know was that he had to learn. He met another English speaker who directed him to a yeshiva in which he enrolled. The years went by, and Cary, now Yitzchak, was living a Torah life. He got married, settled down with his wife, and built a beautiful family.

Looking back, Yitzchak was never happier. He found the truth. Occasionally, Yitzchak would reflect back on his meeting with the guru, and a smile would overcome his face and a warmth would hug his heart because he realized that Hashem was looking out for him all along.

It wasn't only Yitzchak who had a life changing moment on top of a mountain. There was somebody else whose life was drastically altered after an extremely spiritual experience on top of a mountain.

Moshe was shepherding Yisro's flocks when he saw a thorn bush on a mountain that was on fire but was not being consumed. Curiously, Moshe approached the inferno when suddenly the voice of God spoke to him informing him that he was being chosen as the agent to take the Jewish people out of Egyptian bondage.

Moshe did not feel worthy of the task. Besides, Moshe's older brother, Aharon, was an established prophet. Not wanting to slight Aharon, Moshe refused. However, after God's insistence, Moshe realized that he had to obey.

Moshe posed a question to God. "When I tell the Jews that their God sent me to deliver them from Egypt, they will ask me, 'What is His Name?' What should I say to them?" Hashem responded that Moshe should tell them that His Name is, "Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh" (I will Be That I Will Be; Ex. 3:13-14).

This is very interesting because God is referred to by many different Names in the Torah. For example, Havayah, Elokim, Kel, and Shakkai. The Name Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh appears only once in the Torah -- right here by the Burning Bush. Why did God choose this specific Name over any of His Other Names?

We will share three approaches which will analyze some of the meaning behind this Name Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh.

The first approach:

The Talmud (Shabbos, chap. 5, "Bameh Beheimah", pg. 55a, Rebbi Chanina) says that God's seal is truth. The Arizal (Likkutei Torah) says that this means to say that God's stamp is the Name Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh. The connection between truth and this Name is as follows.

The Name "Eheyeh" is numerically 21. Since this Name is repeated twice, it is suggesting that we multiply 21 by 21. When we do, we get the number 441 which is the same numerical value as the Hebrew word "emes" (truth).

Therefore, this Name represents being truthful. When Moshe asked God what Name he should share with the people, it was not just a shallow question. Moshe was asking what Name of God could be used as a segulah (charm) to rescue them from Egyptian slavery.

Hashem responded by saying that they should concentrate on Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh, and think about its coded meaning of truth. God conveyed to Moshe that when the Jewish people turn to Hashem truthfully, they will be rescued (Shvilei Pinchas).

Praying truthfully means that we mean what we say and say what we mean. It means to truthfully put our trust only in Hashem. It means not being hypocritical. It means no justifying and rationalizing. It means admitting the truth.

God said that they should concentrate on being more honest with themselves, and then, the salvation will come.

The second approach:

The Name Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh means that "I will be" with a person who says "I will be with others." In other words, God is telling us that He will treat us the way that we treat other people (Ramban, Ex. 3:13, citing Midrash Aggadah, Menoras Hamaor Harishon, Perek Tzeddakah). This is a fundamental Jewish teaching which is echoed in many passages.

For example, the Talmud (Shabbos, chap. 23, "Shoel", pg. 151b, Rabban Gamliel b'Rebbi) says that anybody who has compassion on creatures, God will have compassion on him, and anybody who does not have compassion on creatures will not receive compassion from Above.

Another example of this teaching is found in Pirkei Avos (chap. 2, "Rebbi Omer", Mishnah 1) when Rebbi says, "Know what is Above you." Many commentaries alternatively interpret this to mean, "Know that whatever happens from 'Above', is dependent on 'you'." Meaning, God waits to see how we treat each other and then decides how He is going to treat us (Toldos parshas Vayikra; Meor Einayim parshas Matos; Kedushas Levi parshas Metzorah; Zerah Kodesh parshas Netzavim; Nefesh Hachayim Sha'ar Aleph, chap. 4, in the note).

So, when Moshe asked Hashem what His Name was, he was asking what Name could the Jewish people concentrate on to help deliver them from Egyptian suffering.

God's response was that it doesn't depend on a Name. Rather, it depends on living up to the Name's expectation. "I Will Be" with people the way that they decide "They Will Be" with others (Shvilei Pinchas).

If the Jews want to be treated with compassion, let them treat each other with more compassion.

Third approach:

The Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim, vol. 3, chap. 51) says that a very wondrous thing was revealed to him, and that is, God's Divine protection of a person is dependent on the person's dveikus (attachment, cleaving, clinging) to God. Dveikus is achieved by concentrating on God. So long as a person thinks about Hashem's existence and about how Hashem is involved in his life, then he is connected to God. Then God is with the person and nothing harmful can happen to him.

However, once a person stops thinking about God, then, he is somewhat disconnected from Hashem. Once this distance from God has been made, the person is now susceptible to be victimized by damaging forces.

The Rambam continues saying that this is the rule to such a degree that, historically, any harm which ever happened to any prophet or to any pious person, only happened to them because, at that moment, they stopped contemplating God and, to a certain degree, they became disconnected from God which allowed destruction to come their way.

There is a verse which supports the Rambam. It says, "And you who cling to Hashem your God, are all alive today" (Dt. 4:4). The connection between the first and second half of this verse teaches us that those who connect to the Source of Life will also live because those people become one with the Source of Life. Just as no injury can come to Hashem, no impairment can come to the person either.

This same idea is echoed in the teachings of the Ba'al Shem Tov (cited in the Toldos Ya'akov Yosef, parshas Bereishis) who says that if a person believes with complete faith that God is with him, even in the most difficult times, no damaging thing could happen to the him.

Therefore, when Hashem wants to punish a person because of his sins, Hashem conceals Himself from the person so that he forgets about God. Only then can God exact punishment against the person. This is the system that Hashem created and this is the system that Hashem chooses to abide by.

Therefore, the verse says, "And I will 'Haster Astir' (surely conceal) my face on that day" (Dt. 31:18). Why is there a double lingo, "Haster Astir?" It comes to teach us that God will hide from us in a double fashion. Meaning, God will hide the fact that he is hiding from us so that we don't even know that we should go looking for Him.

For example, if you're playing hide and seek, you must know that people are hiding from you, otherwise you'll never go searching. Similarly, when God hides the fact that He is hiding from us, we don't even realize that we are supposed to be looking for Him. This creates a disconnect from God. Subsequently, hurtful things can begin happening to that person.

Moshe's question to God was what Name can I share with the people so that they will be able to use is to hasten their redemption. Once again, Hashem said that it's not so much about a name as much as it is about living up to the Name's expectation. The Name is "Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh", which means "I will be" with a person that says "I will be" with God in dveikus. When they connect with me, they will be protected from any harm (Shvilei Pinchas).

The Tikkunei Zohar (Pg. 144b) adds that when Hashem revealed His name of Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh, God was hinting at the mitzvah of tefillin. This can be seen from a pair of tefillin. In the box worn on the arm, there is parchment upon which is written some paragraphs from the Torah. The name of God, Havayah (yud, hey, vov, hey), is mentioned 21 times in those paragraphs. The number 21 is propitious because it is the numerical value of the Name Eheyeh.

Since the Name Havayah also appears 21 times in the paragraphs on the parchment in the box worn on the head, it hints at another Name Eheyeh. Therefore, when God said to Moshe, "Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh", He was hinting at a pair of tefillin that contains 21 Names of Havayah in each box.

This teaches us that tefillin are intended to create dveikus, connecting us to Hashem. Therefore, we are instructed to constantly touch the tefillin while wearing them (Rambam, Yad Hachazakah, Hilchos Tefillin, 4:14). We are supposed to be trying to cling to God continuously.

Dveikus is the point of having wisdom. Scriptural verse says that King Solomon's wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all people (Kin. 1, 5:10-11). Then it says that Solomon spoke "Shloshes Alaphim Mashal" (three thousand proverbs; Kin. 1, 5:12). The Shvilei Pinchas says that the words "Shloshes Alaphim" does not only mean "three thousand." The root of the word "alaphim" (thousand) is "eleph". When you change the vowels of "eleph", it spells "aleph" (the first letter of the Hebrew alpha-bet). Therefore, "shloshes alaphim" can also be pronounced to mean "three alephs."

In other words, the verses are teaching us that the point of wisdom is to achieve the three letters aleph. Three alephs do not refer to AAA, but rather serves as the acronym for "Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh." The point of wisdom is to use that wisdom to achieve dveikus.

May I add that the point of wisdom is also to achieve the other messages hinted to in the three alephs of
Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh, which are to treat people a little bit better (like we saw in the second approach), and to be more truthful (like we saw in the first approach).

In conclusion, the Talmud (Kesuvos, chap. 2, "Ha-isha Shenisarmelah", pg. 17a) says that Rav Shmuel bar Rav Yitzchak would dance in front of a bride and groom "ahtlas" (with three). With three what? Rashi says with three myrtle branches. However, the Shvilei Pinchas suggests an alternative explanation.

Rav Shmuel was teaching the newlyweds that in order to withstand all the pressures that life will bring (parnassah, children, etc.) they must remain connected to God. This is hinted to in the word "ahtlas" which is spelled: aleph, tuf, lamed, suf. When you separate the aleph from the other letters and read it backwards it spells "tlas - aleph" (three alephs), which stand for Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh. Meaning, one must live up to this Name's expectation and remain connected to God. Then, no harm will come.

Therefore, this message was being conveyed while Rav Shmuel was dancing. The act of dancing requires one to bounce up and down. This represents that when we "bounce up" and try to connect with God, then Hashem "bounces down" (so to speak) and shields us with His Divine protection.

May I add, that it is also imperative for every bride and groom to cultivate the other messages behind Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh and treat each other with even more tolerance, respect, appreciation, and love. It is also important for them to lead honest lives filled with integrity.

As a means of a practical application, each day we should think of the Name "Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh" as we put on tefillin, or at any time for that matter, and ask Hashem, "Eheyeh, please help me be a more truthful person, help me treat others a little bit better, and help me constantly be aware of Your Presence."

So, my prayer to Eheyeh is that we truthfully begin treating each other even better than we already are, and remain under God's protective shadow, connected to Him always, which will be considered like we are constantly wearing tefillin.

bottom of page