Posts Tagged 'humility'

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.

Bone Breaking: Between Liberation and Apotheosis

In Bo, this week’s Torah portion, we learn the peculiar commandment not to break any from all of the bones of the Passover sacrifice. We read:

The Lord said to Moshe and Aaron: This is the law of the Passover offering: No foreigner shall eat of it. But any slave a man has bought may eat of it once he has been circumcised. No bound or hired laborer shall eat of it. It shall be eaten in one house: you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house; nor shall you break a bone of it. The whole community of Israel shall offer it.(Exodus 12:43-47).

Clearly this commandment is connected to the general  commandment to remember the miracles of Egypt.  At most basic level we learn who gets to eat of the Passover sacrifice. This action very clearly helps us define the group and who is a part of our nation. But still what is the problem of breaking the bones?

About this the Sefer HaHinuch writes:

…it is not honorable for the sons of kings and the advisers of the land to drag the bones and break them like dogs. It is not a proper thing to do this, except for the impoverished among the people and the starving. And therefore, as we began to become the chosen of all nations, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), and in each and every year at that time, it is proper for us to do acts that show in us the great stature which we achieved at that hour. (Sefer HaHinuch 16)

This argument suggests that breaking the bones on any day would be beneath us, but on Passover when we are reenacting our liberation and lounging ( leaning)  as kings, we should not gnaw at bones like slaves.  It seems that there is still more going on with this commandment.

I was thinking about this question a few months ago while reading up on my Norse mythology.  At the time I was preparing to take my boys to see Thor: Ragnarok . As I learned Thor‘s chariot was pulled by two goats Tanngrisnir ( snarler) and Tanngnjóstr (teeth grinder).

Thor (1910) by Johannes Gehrts

When Thor was hungry, as he had an epic appetite, he would kill and cook the goats. After eating them Thor resurrected them with his hammer and they would be brought back to life the next day. Once while on one of their many adventures Thor and Loki stayed a night at the home of peasant farmers. Thor invited them to share with them his goat meal. Despite Thor’s warning against it, Loki suggests to the son of the farmer that he should taste of the goat marrow because it will make him like a god. Sure enough the mortal follows the suggestion of the trickster and breaks one of the bones to taste of the divine marrow.  When Thor resurrects the goats the next morning, he finds that one of the goats is lame and becomes enraged. As a result, Thor maintains  the farmer’s son and his sister as his servants and join Thor and Loki on their adventures.

While I know that a lamb is not a goat, there is something interesting here between these two narratives. Many believe that the lamb was a god to the Egyptians. The act of sacrificing the Egyptian god was itself an act of defiance and demonstrated the Israelite commitment to leave and not return. In light of this story of  Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr, maybe the prohibition of breaking the bones is not that we are like dogs gnawing on bones. Maybe the prohibition is meant to stop us from listening to Loki the trickster. We might mistakenly think that we could become gods and ultimately just become servants. Our tradition is full of commandments that help us preserve the memory of our  exodus from Egypt. I believe this prohibition to breaking the bones of the Passover sacrifice is  to teach us humility. It is to remind us that this is a story of our liberation not our apotheosis.

-Also on Thor: Ragnarok: The Binding : Fenrir and Isaac  and Gog, Magog, & Ragnarök 


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