Translations of kabbalistic texts are by Rabbi Larry Tabick, The Aura of Torah. Translations of the Torah and other commentaries are from Sefaria, except where otherwise noted.
Moses, in exile in Midian, chases a lost lamb and finds a burning bush. The bush speaks to him, and Moses recognizes the presence of God, the Shechinah.
Moses said, “I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight; why doesn’t the bush burn up?” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him out of the bush: “Moses! Moses!” He (Moses) answered, “Here I am.” And He (God) said, “Do not come closer. Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.”
וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אַל־תִּקְרַ֣ב הֲלֹ֑ם שַׁל־נְעָלֶ֙יךָ֙ מֵעַ֣ל רַגְלֶ֔יךָ כִּ֣י הַמָּק֗וֹם אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתָּה֙ עוֹמֵ֣ד עָלָ֔יו אַדְמַת־קֹ֖דֶשׁ הֽוּא׃
raglecha means foot as part of human anatomy, but can also refer to the foot as part of an object like a table or an idol (Larry Pierce)
Omaad means stand, but can also refer to urinating on something (Jastrow)
Midrash Tanchuma Shemot 19:1
And He said: “Moses, Moses,” and Moses said: “Here am I” [Exodus 3:4]. … The Holy One, blessed be He said: You stand in the place of one of the pillars of the world, (for) Abraham has said “Here am I,” and now you are saying, “Here am I.” … [God] appeared to [Moses] through the voice of his father, Amram, lest he become frightened. Thereupon Moses rejoiced exclaiming, “My father, Amram, still lives.” The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, I came to you enticingly so that you would not be terrified. Forthwith, Moses hid his face. Be assured, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, because you honored Me, I will cause you to be honored by all Israel …
Yosef of Yampole, late 18th-early 19th century
R. Yosef of Yampole said, “Do not come closer” — you should not say, “If I had such and such, it would certainly improve my service of God, but service is so very difficult.” Do not say this, but “take your shoes off your feet [raglecha]” — that is, set aside the foolishness of your usual habits [regilut], and then you will see that “the place where you are standing is holy ground” — in that exact place, you can serve God, as the holy Ba’al Shem Tov said [on the verse] “And you should seek the Eternal your God from there, and you will find [God]” Deuteronomy 4:29 – “from there,” precisely from the place where you are, at whatever level you are on. Even if you are not in an exalted place, nevertheless, “from there” you will find the Eternal your God, and you will be able to attach yourself to God.
Yosef of Yampole is saying that we have what we need to serve and honor God. The problem is what we need to let go — our habits, perhaps our idols.
What do you think you need to a better person?
What do you need to let go?
The Midrash suggest by saying “Here I am,” we are at the one of the pillars of the world. How do you understand what that means? If God appears in ways that comfort, what might need to look for?
Moses’ initial experiences trying to liberate his people are frustrating. He is rejected by both the Pharaoh and his people. Moses complains to God:
Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, “O Lord, why did You bring harm upon this people? Why did You send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has dealt worse with this people; and still You have not delivered Your people.”
Rabbi Elimelech of Lishensk, 18th century
On the face of it, [the phrase] “while You have not even rescued [this people]” is a duplicate expression; when [Moses] said, “he has treated this people worse,” God had obviously not rescued them.
It seems that the meaning is that now, when we are in this bitter exile, in our affliction “[God too] is afflicted,” and the Shechinah [the Presence of God] is in exile with us, it is our task to worry and complain only about the exile of the Shechinah; not to think at all about our own pain, but only about the pain and exile of the Shechinah. And if our orientation and our pain were only directed toward the pain fo the Shechinah, rather than our own, we would be redeemed immediately.
But we are flesh, and it is not possible for us to bear afflictions and agony. Therefore our days in bitter exile are prolonged, because of our many transgressions, because our pains are coupled with that of the Shechinah, but we are anxious [only] about our own pains. If only there were a righteous person … who could save the entire world from exile!
This is what Moses our teacher [meant when] he said: “For since I went [to Pharaoh] to speak in Your name”; all my words were only for the sake of Your great and holy name, which is in exile, and not on account of our exile.
In our discussions we have often discussed how to understand God’s relationship to the bad things in the world. One traditional answer is that bad things are a consequence of our actions. Another points to the difficulty in understanding God and creation, as we find in Job. Yet others point to free will and the necessity of the Universe to follow a fixed set of rules that allow for human error. Rabbi Harold Kushner tells that in this Universe, which allows human freedom, that God can be a source of strength and compassion to us. God, in this sense is helpless to stop bad behavior, once God set the world into motion.
Rabbi Elimelech suggests even a more radical perspective. Perhaps the Presence of God in our world also suffers. If God is within everything and bad things happen in this world, then God too is experiencing pain. Perhaps, he is saying, the path to redemption to recognize that suffering God in our world, and to seek to help that God.
How would you do that? What would look for?