Take Off Your Shoes
Rabbi Yaacov Haber
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Space has its markers. When we visit places that we had visited as a child the energy of that place is released and brings back all the memories that seemed to be stored up there waiting for you to return and enjoy them. Time also has its markers. Birthdays, anniversaries, yahrtzeits – all of these markers take us back on a journey as we remember a particular day in our lives, a certain day in history. This Shabbos is a special marker for me personally. Parshas Eikev was the Shabbos of my Aufruf. Many years later the week of Eikev was my first Shabbos in Australia. As time went on Parshas Eikev was also the very first time I spoke from the pulpit of Congregation Bais Torah which led to my succeeding Rabbi Berel Wein and continuing his legacy.
We often tell our spouses, our children or our employees to stop being so sensitive. We work on ourselves and exercise our emotions so that we should become less sensitive. We speak of sensitivity as if it is some sort of disease and the cause of pain and anguish. Yet sensitivity is a very positive trait. Sensitive people are able to feel what others cannot. The ability to feel is essential for wholesome living. The alternative to being sensitive is being insensitive. Being sensitive can at times be the biggest obstacle in a relationship but it would be impossible to have a meaningful relationship without it.
I have often mentioned the insight of the Sfas Emes. When Moshe Rabeinu approached the burning bush he heard G-d speak to him. “Take off your shoes!” G-d commanded. “You are standing on Holy ground.” Why did G-d command Moshe to take off his shoes and not to cover his head or prepare his heart? The Sfas Emes explains that there is a great difference between walking with shoes or without them. With shoes one can walk over stones, glass, water, even fire and not feel a thing. Without shoes, even in the comfort of ones own home one can feel everything. Step on the slightest protrusion, even a little Lego and the pain climbs right up the spine.
Hashem told Moshe that if you want to hear the word of G-d, if you’re going to be a leader of the people you must take off your shoes. You must remove the insulation that you wear to protect yourself from the environment. It will hurt but you must be able to feel every bump, every nick and cranny; you must be able to feel the pain.
A person who is responsive to external conditions or stimulation, who is quick to take offense or is touchy, is a person who will be susceptible to the attitudes, feelings, or circumstances of others. It is this individual who can develop a meaningful relationship. It is this person who can truly help another Jew. It is this individual who can be endowed with Prophecy and holiness.
This Parsha begins with Eikev and goes on to describe the most wonderful blessings possible on this Earth. Rashi teaches that “Eikev” which actually means heel, talks of the “small” mitzvahs, mitzvos that are easy to ignore; mitzvos that we step on with our heel. The major blessings of life, it seems, depend on the small insignificant mitzvos of the Torah.
Yet when we leaf through the Parsha we don’t find any small Mitzvos.
1. Remember that G-d was the one who took you out of Egypt.
2. Don’t forget G-d.
3. Thank G-d for your food.
4. Fear G-d.
5. Pray to G-d.
6. Love the stranger because you were a stranger.
These sound like heavy duty Mitzvos to me. Why Eikev? What makes these Mitzvos small?
The answer is that although these mitzvos are not small they are easy to ignore. They are mitzvos that require deep thought and high sensitivity. It is very easy for us to do all the big mitzvos while we insulate ourselves completely from showing gratitude, love and feeling the pain of the stranger. To this the Torah says take off your shoes. The heel is one of the most sensitive parts of our body. Take off your shoes and feel where you came from, your surroundings and where you are going.
The Mitzvah of Eikev is to exercise our sensitivity and keep our feelings healthy. Try to imagine what it feels like to be hungry and then feed the poor. Imagine what it feels like to be alone, and then make a shiduch. Think about what it would feel like to be disabled and than go visit the sick. Think of what it's like to be a kid getting yelled at by a grown up before you lose it with your kids. Think of what it feels like when someone says something mean to you before you let loose on your spouse or other loved one. Think of what it feels like to be ignored before you close someone important out of your life.
Eikev Tishmiun, if you can listen and feel, than G-d too will feel our pain “veshamar habris vehachesed shenishba liavosecha.”
Before Moshe approached he holy ground he took off his shoes. Before the Kohein walks into the Holy of Holies he takes off his shoes. On Yom Kipur and Tisha B’Av we take off our shoes. Before we walk into marriage, parenting or a life of mitzvos we too must take off our shoes and then be blessed with the blessings of the Torah “I will Love you, multiply your offspring and sustain you forever".
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