(Excerpt from: “Walking barefoot: Jewish lessons in leadership” by Rabbi Joel Seltzer / Jewish World blogger | Jan. 6, 2013.)
“This whole barefoot theory is nothing new. No, quite to the contrary. In this past week’s Torah portion we read of the first time someone was advised to remove their shoes in order to be in touch with the ground more completely; the person who took off their shoes was Moses, and the advice-giver was God.
In this past week’s parasha, Parashat Shemot, Moses encounters the Presence of God for the first, but certainly not the last, time. While he is tending to his father-in-law’s flock, he stumbles upon Mt. Horev, and there Moses sees the miraculous vision of the burning bush. It is during this moment of theophany when God asks what may seem like an unusual request:
God says: “Draw not nigh hither; put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)
The commentators are puzzled by this request. Why does God ask Moses to remove his shoes? Is it because there was a line in the sand? Is it because our shoes are naturally dirty and therefore unfit to be in the presence of God?
One possible answer comes from the Hasidic Rebbe, the “Ollalot Ephraim.” He writes:
‘The world beneath our feet is always filled with small stones and debris. When we wear shoes, we easily walk upon all sorts of small things which stand in our way; in fact we barely notice them. But, when we walk barefoot, we feel every single stone and pebble, every kotz vedardar, every thorn and every thistle, every last rock hurts us. And this then is the hinted meaning of the text: To Moses, the preeminent leader of the people Israel, God said: “Shal na’alekha” “take off your shoes,” meaning, the leader of each and every generation needs to be aware of every barrier, every experience of suffering that is placed upon the way. A leader must feel the pain of the people, and must be sensitive to their every suffering.’
This is the meaning of true leadership; understanding the power that comes when we walk barefoot through our lives. When, instead of ignoring the pain and suffering of others that abounds, we make ourselves vulnerable to it. When, instead of choosing a life of padding and cushion, we understand that we were meant to feel every rock and every pebble, every thorn and every thistle of the ground beneath our feet.”
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