Barefoot on Holy Ground – A Lesson from the Torah

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(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.”

 

For the full article, refer to:

http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/rabbis-round-table/walking-barefoot-jewish-lessons-in-leadership.premium-1.492180

 

Photo Source: http://africaisnear.blogspot.com/2009/04/take-off-your-shoes.html

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Standing on His Promise

An immigrant might kiss the ground of a new homeland. In the Old Testament, the Israelites marked their gratitude by standing on the boundary of their new land in the presence of God. Later, they honored the memory with stones from that unusual place.

 Joshua 3:1–4a, 8, 13, 15–16a, 17 (NIV 1984)

Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.”…

 [The Lord said to Joshua] “Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’”…

 And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the LORD—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”…

 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing…. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground….

 Joshua 4:1–3, 6b–7, 15–18, 20–22 (NIV 1984)

When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”…

 “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”…

 Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Command the priests carrying the ark of the Testimony to come up out of the Jordan.” So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.” And the priests came up out of the river carrying the ark of the covenant of the LORD. No sooner had they set their feet on the dry ground than the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and ran at flood stage as before….

 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’”  [emphasis mine] 

           One of God’s many covenantal promises was to provide a homeland to Abraham’s descendants. It wasn’t a straightforward inheritance. His promise was eternal, but He delayed its fulfillment.

          As God revealed Himself to successive generations through Isaac and Jacob, He looked for faith and obedience in the hearts of His chosen people. It took a long and circuitous journey to get to the Promised Land. The nation of Israel endured the parallel physical and spiritual enslavement and much wandering.

          But a promise is a promise. In this passage, a more obedient generation finally arrives in the Promised Land. God stands on His promises; He keeps them. You can count on that.

 

From: Sandhu, T.J. (2013). Walking with God: Praying through footwork metaphors in scripture. Unpublished manuscript.