I was sitting in a meeting of the executive team at work, when a discussion about tough conversations began. We began to go to the typical way of referring to inviting people to such conversations – Come to Jesus Moment. Our CEO turned to me and said, “Rabbi, there must be a Jewish way to refer to these types of conversations”. It took me only seconds to respond with, “Of course, it’s a Burning Bush Conversation”.
The Burning Bush Conversation for God and Moses is described in Shemot / Exodus, chapter 3 -4, beginning at http://www.taggedtanakh.org/Chapter/Index/english-Exod-3 .
Here is what a Burning Bush Conversation looked like then, and the implications for our Burning Bush Conversations with colleagues, leaders, students and others that are part of our personal and communal Jewish journeys:
- A Burning Bush Moment begins with a person who is doing business as usual: “Moses, tending the flock of his father-in-law…drove the flock into the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. ”
- A Burning Bush Moment has a stimulus sent by the person convening the discussion, to get the attention of the other person. It could be “Hey, read this article and let’s see if we are doing this right”. It could be a question like “What was that charge on my charge card statement?” The Torah’s invitation to a conversation was far more dramatic. Ours doesn’t need to be, but we’re following a tradition of: an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire out of a bush. He gazed, and there was a bush all aflame, yet the bush was not consumed. Moses said, “I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight.”
- When inviting someone to a Burning Bush Conversation, it is important to acknowledge and honor the person being invited, while also clearly defining roles and rules for the conversation. It might be boss-employee, teacher-student, or in this case, God-Moses. And the rules can be who gets to speak and for how long, seating arrangements, or the dress code for the conversation: God called to him out of the bush: “Moses! Moses!” He answered, “Here I am.” And He said, “Do not come closer. Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. I am,” He said, “the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
- The Burning Bush Conversation includes background to how everyone got to this point: I have marked well the plight of My people in Egypt and have heeded their outcry because of their taskmasters; yes, I am mindful of their sufferings. I have come down to rescue them from the Egyptians and to bring them out of that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
- A goal of the Burning Bush Conversation is for the convener to communicate clearly how things must change and new roles adopted for success, such as “I have a new project for you” or “Your work needs to change in the future”. Or “Let’s work together and get an uprising going”: Go and assemble the elders of Israel and say to them: the Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has appeared to me…I will stretch out My hand and smite Egypt with various wonders which I will work upon them; after that he shall let you go.
- Any Burning Bush Conversation will face inevitable resistance to change: Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?…When I come to the Israelites and say to them ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?…Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue…Please, O Lord, make someone else Your agent.
- The Burning Bush Conversation should have the convener clarifying to the other that s/he will have support in achieving change and the new role: I will be with you; that shall be your sign that it was I who sent you…Thus shall you speak to the Israelites: The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.
- The Burning Bush Moment defines the tools and resources available to manage the new role. It could be a budget, new hardware or assigning a team: There is your brother Aaron the Levite. He, I know, speaks readily…put the words in his mouth—I will be with you and with him as you speak, and tell both of you what to do…And take with you this rod, with which you shall perform the signs.
In the Torah, the Burning Bush Moment sets the stage for success: the Exodus from Egypt. In our Jewish communal work, our successes are more modest but should set the stage for positive change that brings people – professionals, leaders, or volunteers, to more powerfully impact our communities.