As the text says, “And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire – but the bush was not consumed” (Ex. 3:2).
Samson Raphael Hirsch says that the point of the verse is not that the bush burnt without being consumed, but that in the midst of the bush appeared an angel in the midst of flames. The bush was an earthly phenomenon: the angel was the message of God coming down to earth.
The sages say, no place on earth is too humble to receive the spirit of Godliness. Hirsch adds that any human being is like the bush and capable of receiving the Divine message and inspiration.
Why the fire? Not only because God’s word is esh dat – “a law of fire” (Deut. 33:3), but because a person overtaken by a great idea, a great dream, a great thought, a great inspiration, is aflame with exhilaration. They burn with enthusiasm. It takes hold of every fibre of their being.
But they are not consumed; the message is not there to annihilate them but to be transmitted wherever they go.
It was the moment at the burning bush that made Moses a prophet – not a crystal-ball gazer who claims to know the future, but a human being seized by God’s message.
How one becomes a prophet is differently explained by Maimonides and Yehudah Halevi.
Maimonides argues that any human being is in theory capable of prophecy if only they refine their intellect enough. Halevi sees prophecy as a gift that comes from On High to select individuals.
In the traditional sense prophecy is in abeyance, but we are all capable of being seized by great visions and ideas.
The pity is that the modern age breeds two quite diametrically opposed types – the hard-bitten pragmatist who, like a bush without an angel, has no time for dreams, and the obsessive who has lost touch with reality and thinks that it is enough to inhabit a dreamland where there are no bushes.