The Shoes They Filled: NYT & Moshe’s Sandals

There is an incredibly poigniant moment in Shmot, last week’s Torah portion, when Moshe is told to remove is footwear. There we read:

And God said, “Do not come closer. Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.

 Exodus 3:5

Why is Moshe made to shuck shoe? There are many good answers to this question.

Sandals were made of leather. It is possible that God wanted him to remove the impurity of the dead flesh from his body before connecting with God. Another answer is that God was trying to communicate that Moshe need to give up ownership in the world to walk with God. Similarly on this question Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik said

The shoe is the symbol of vulgarity and uncouthness, of superficiality, of raw power… To understand holiness, to gain sensitivity, a person must remove his shoes.

Chumash Mesoras Ha-Rav, p. 24.

On this question Rabbi S.R. Hirsch said,

Taking off one’s shoes expresses giving oneself up entirely to the meaning of a place, to let your personality get its standing and take up its position entirely and directly on it without any intermediary.

Hirsch’s reading is asking Moshe if he is open to the world around him. Is he allowing himself to be vulnerable? As  Brené Brown, my vulnerability Rebbe, teaches:

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.

Daring Greatly

Anyone with kids with their Legos knows the pain of stepping on Lego barefoot. To parent means you have to be open to being hurt and being humble. You need to know as much as you might be a creator, you are not God. That it means to be open to being hurt. Unlike the traditional definition of humility, the Jewish definition of a person who has humility is someone who takes up just the right amount of space. A humble person is one who has a healthy sense of self-esteem and is hospitable to others. That means that he does not think he is better than others but also does not feel that he is worse. In many ways Moshe being told to take his shoes off is really just setting him up to put them back on. What space does he need to occupy to become the leader of this liberation movement?

I was thinking about this idea this week when looking at the the New York Times Magazine. Like every year this time the Times runs a spread on famous people who died the prior year. This year they ran a great story about the iconic shoes of people who made a huge impact on our world who passed away this past year. The paint splattered shoes of Eric Carle spoke to me.

Looking at their shoes gives us pause to consider what it would take for each of us to achieve our own potential. Like Moshe we need to take a moment to remove our shoes so that when we step into them we can take up the right amount of space in the world.

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