Wet Floors, Holy Ground: Parashat Shemot
January 1, 2016 ~ 21 Tevet 5776
Rabbi Jen Gubitz
The flurry of metro traffic swirls by as the sounds of exquisite violin accompany the footsteps of Washington, DC’s, daily commuters. There is a yellow wet-floor sign a few feet ahead of him. People are sure to watch their steps to avoid the wet ground. Just one person stops, notices the exquisite violinist, applauds for a moment, and then runs to catch her train.
Joshua Bell, the violinist virtuoso and an Indiana University graduate, plays in the l’Enfant Plaza metro stop, but most are too hurried to notice.
There is midrash that teaches that so, too, did many pass by the burning bush of this week’s parasha- but only one stopped - only one saw the bush aflame - and he was the emerging virtuoso of the Jewish people - Moses.
The 13th century Kabbalist Bachya ben Asher teaches that this is a moment of gradual awareness. Moses first sees a bush, then he sees it’s on fire, then he sees that it’s not consumed.
Most people at the subway that day saw the yellow sign - Wet Floor- moved around it and raced down the escalator.
Those few that stopped to notice the man beyond the yellow sign -Wet Floor- heard the music,
maybe left some change in his case and then they, too, head down the escalator to the metro platform.
There is, for moments, a gradual awareness of something magnificent in their midst.
Now I’m not one who recognizes famous people even in movies I know they are headlining.
Nor would I have recognized Joshua Bell - especially on a morning commute - but I wish to imagine I would have been like those who stopped because the music stirred something in them and in me. I wish to imagine the music would have sparked in me notice that something was afoot.
In our parasha, the fire stirs something in Moses - his awareness sparked, his curiosity peaked.
“Why doesn’t this bush burn up?” Moses asks. "I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight…” When God sees that Moses has turned aside to look more carefully it is then that God calls to him out of the bush: "Moses! Moses!" “Hineni,” Moses answers, "Here I am."
His awareness more and more ablaze, Moses is able both to see and then to hear God’s voice.
But before he can engage further, “Stop!” God says. "Do not come closer. Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.”
Like the metro platform, there is now a yellow sign a few feet ahead of Moses - Holy Ground - it reads. Where most signs such as this warn us to stay safe, be careful, pay attention, be aware,
steer clear - this sign beckons us: pay attention, be aware, and come closer.
But why must virtuoso Moses take off his shoes to fully experience God, the bush, and the moment?
Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz, a 17th century Chief Rabbi of Prague, who wrote the commentary Keli Yakar teaches that: "When wearing shoes, it is possible easily to tread upon small stones that are in your path, practically without feeling them at all. But when you walk barefoot, you feel every bump and obstacle, the jab of every thorn, the pain of every pebble. This is the reason Moses, leader of all Israel, is told: 'Remove your sandals.' The leader of the generation must be sensitive to every obstacle and snare along his path. He must feel the pain of the people and be sensitive to the snares they encounter."
Like Moses then, or like the rare Metro passenger who stopped to unknowingly encounter the virtuous violin music, our goal is to walk through this world with sensitive awareness as though barefoot: to feel the small stones and the large boulders, the bushes aglow with God as well as a wilting weed, to encounter not just the yellow sign warning us awareness of a wet floor, but to also notice the person who placed it there. Our goal is to remove the barriers, the impediments,
the ways we always see and do the world. For if we are constantly rushing down the escalator
hoping we don’t miss the train, we will miss the bush, we will miss the fire, and we will not hear that call…that can bring us closer to one another and to God.