"[An angel of God appeared to him (Moses) in a blazing fire] from the midst of the thorn-bush…" (Exodus 2:5). A heathen once asked Rabbi Joshua ben Karcha: “Why did God speak to Moses from the midst of a thorn-bush?” He answered, "Were it a carob tree or a sycamore tree, you would have asked the same question; but to dismiss you without any reply is not right, so I will tell you why. To teach you that there is no place free of God’s presence, not even a thorn-bush.” (Exodus Rabbah 2:5)
One of the questions with which religions struggle is where do we encounter God. Judaism has always taught that there is no place devoid of God’s presence and that we are capable of encountering God anywhere. When Jacob awoke from his dream, he proclaimed, “Surely, God was in this place and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16). In the book of Exodus God speaks to Moses from a thorn-bush. The Hebrew word, “sneh" ironically shares the same root as Sinai, where God will speak to Moses later in the story. A majestic mountain, Sinai is the type of place where we expect God to speak with us. But instead, at this point in the story, God chooses a thorn-bush as the place of revelation.
In rabbinic literature, heathens often challenge rabbis with probing questions. In this case, the question is why God chose such a lowly shrub to speak with Moses. Before answering the question, Rabbi Joshua notes that the heathen no doubt would have questioned any place that God chose to be revealed. Rather than dismissing the question, however, Rabbi Joshua answers that God spoke to Moses from a thorn-bush to teach us that there is no place free of God’s presence. This message is reflected throughout Judaism. Our encounters with God are not limited to the synagogue or identified holy places, but can occur anywhere. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk asked, “Where is God?” And answered that God is wherever we let God in. This midrash reminds us that we can encounter God anywhere, even in a lowly thorn-bush, if we simply pay attention.