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?
There is a great difference between walking with shoes and walking 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 one’s 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; you must be able to feel the pain.
A person who is responsive and vulnerable to external conditions and stimulation, who is quick to take offense or is touchy, is a person who will be susceptible to the attitudes, feelings, and circumstances of others. It is this individual who can develop a meaningful relationship with others. 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 also means heel, refers to the “small” mitzvot, mitzvot that are easy to ignore; mitzvot that we step on with our heel. The major blessings of life, it seems, depend on the small “insignificant” mitzvot of the Torah.
Yet when we leaf through the Parsha we don’t find any “small” mitzvot. What do we find?
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 mitzvot to me! Why Eikev? What makes these mitzvot small?
The answer is that although these mitzvot are not small, they are easy to ignore. They are mitzvot that require deep thought and high sensitivity. It is very easy for us to do all the “big” mitzvot 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 your surroundings, feel where you came from and feel 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 grownup 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 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,” and He will keep the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your fathers.
Before Moshe stood on holy ground he took off his shoes. Before the Kohein walks into the Holy of Holies he takes off his shoes. On Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av we take off our shoes. Before we walk into marriage, parenting or a life of mitzvot, we too must take off our shoes; and we will then be blessed with the blessings of the Torah: “I will love you, multiply your offspring and sustain you forever”.