Torah Fax

Thursday, December 30, 2004 - 18 Tevet, 5765

Torah Reading:  Shemot  (Exodus 1:1 -6:1)
Candle Lighting time: 4:20 PM
Shabbat ends: 5:25 PM

The Soul of the Shoe
The first time G‑d spoke to Moses, appointing him as the liberator of the Jewish people, occurred at the burning bush on Mt. Sinai. As Moses approached to see the marvel-a burning bush not consumed by fire-he was told by G‑d: "Remove your shoes from your feet."
But why did G‑d order him to remove his shoes? More importantly, what can we learn from this command? After all, this encounter between Moses and G‑d determined the future course of human history.  It stands to reason that the order to remove his shoes carries some profound symbolism for future generations.
One explanation for the removal of shoes is that unlike one who wears shoes, one who walks barefoot feels even the smallest piece of debris. One of the reasons we do not wear leather shoes on Yom Kippur is so that we deny ourselves the comfort of not feeling the roughness of the earth. In other words, shoes represent the medium through which we can divorce ourselves from the rough edges in our lives that may intrude from the outside.
Of all people who can feel the roughness of the earth, a leader is most likely to be affected by the suffering, pain and criticism from the outside. As humans we are all designed by our Creator to block out disturbing images and experiences, so that we can cope with life. The more painful the outside world, the more our defenses put "shoes" on our feet, so that we do not feel the roughness of the outside world that we must engage. 
It follows that for a leader to retain his sanity he must have thick skin. Just as a physician or nurse must learn not to fall apart every time they see illness and death, otherwise they would be incapable of helping those whom they are charged with helping, so too, a leader has to wear the "emotional shoes" to make their task bearable.
There is, however, a danger that lurks in the attempt to shield oneself from the pain of the outside. The leader can lose his sensitivity to the very people he was sent to help. The coping mechanism does not know how to distinguish between not falling apart at the sight of misery and becoming desensitized to suffering and pain entirely.
To strike the right balance, the leader must begin his leadership with a strong dose of vulnerability. They cannot start their role wearing all the protective armor they might need to wear later in the course of the execution of their leadership responsibilities. In addition, there are times when they have to stop what they are doing and reflect on the needs of the people in an empathetic way and perhaps even shed a few tears at the plight of human beings.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe would receive tens of thousands of letters from people throughout the world; asking him for his counsel and blessing in dealing with their pain and anguish. Every imaginable problem was brought to his attention, and the Rebbe personally responded to thousands of these letters with his fatherly and sage advice and blessing.
Chassidim remember vividly how before the sounding of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, the Rebbe would take huge bundles of these letters-that represented the pain and suffering of multitudes-up to the Bimah from where he sounded the Shofar. Right before the Shofar sounding would start, the Rebbe would envelop himself and these bundles in his talit and would cry bitterly for a few minutes. 
As Moses was about to be selected from the ranks of the Jewish people to be their first leader, G‑d told him to remove his shoes. "I want you to genuinely feel the pain of the people you will be leading. And while you might have to avail yourself of the defense mechanism so that you could endure the pain, never allow those shoes to desensitize you to the plight of the Jewish people."
In truth, every Jew is charged with the responsibility to be a leader. And being a leader is a delicate tightrope act, maintaining a healthy and productive balance between feeling the pain of others and not falling apart in despair. We must learn from Moses to "remove our shoes" when we stand in front of the "burning bush"-a metaphor for the holiness of every Jew who is in possession of a soul that is on fire-and not be willing to accept the suffering of others. When we go out to actually redeem the Jews from Egypt, we must then put our shoes on so that we do not become depressed and demoralized by the degradation and pitiful state of the people we were chosen to help.
In the present Messianic-threshold age, our role as leaders is more pronounced than ever. It is the responsibility of each us to activate the Moses and Moshiach spark within us so that we can help bring an end to the galut-exile. And as we try to help others in their personal journey out of Egypt-exile, we must remember to begin our mission by removing our shoes so that we know, feel and appreciate the needs of the Jewish people and the entire world.
Moshiach Matters
At the present time, when the world trembles, when all the world shudders with the birth-pangs of Moshiach... it is the duty of every Jew, man and woman, old and young, to ask themselves: What have I done and what am I doing to alleviate the birth-pangs of Moshiach, and to merit the total redemption which will come through our Righteous Moshiach? (From a letter of the Previous Rebbe)

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