Shabbat Parshat Shemot
Moshe beholds the angel of Hashem within the
burning bush and he comes closer to see why the bush is not consumed. Then
Hashem calls to Moshe and speaks to him for the first time:
What is the significance of removing the
Some commentaries explain that Moshe’s journey towards holiness is yet to begin. Ibn Ezra says Moshe must remain in his place and not come near the bush at all. Sforno (R. Ovadia ben Yaakov Sforno, c. 1470-c.1550), on the other hand, reads: slip off your shoes — even in the place where you are; not only is the place of the bush holy, but even the place upon which you stand is holy ground.
Ramban agrees with Ibn Ezra, that Moshe has not yet attained the highest degree of prophecy. That would happen at the Revelation at Mount Sinai: He (Moshe) drew near to the thick darkness where G-d was (Shemot 20:18).
The reason for removing the shoes is because
the entire area had become sanctified by the Divine Presence, and no barrier
should be placed between Moshe and the holy ground. In this connection Ramban
quotes the Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 2:13):
The reference to Yehoshua is the angelic
visitation in Yericho:
Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook (1865-1935) argues that sometimes removing shoes is itself a significant or even obligatory act. Thus, before the priestly blessing or before Yom Kippur, the right shoe should be removed first (Otzerot HaRaayah III pp. 229-230). A similar observation can be made regarding Moshe and Yehoshua: the removal of shoes is a significant step in being elevated in holiness.
Some commentaries see in the removal of shoes
symbolic and mystical meaning. Daniel (7:15) speaks of the body as a sheath for
the soul. Nefesh HaChayim (R. Chayim of Volozhin, 1749-1821) says that the
relation of the body to the soul is comparable to that of the shoe to the body.
Not only is a shoe an outer covering, but it covers the nethermost part of the
body; similarly, the body houses only the lowest part of the soul, while the
root of the soul exists in the upper worlds. Involvement in bodily matters is an
impediment to spiritual achievement. In order to achieve holiness, one must be
wholly devoted to Heaven (Gate I ch. 5; Likutei Maamarim 14). In a similar vein
see also Haamek Davar (R. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817- 1893); Peh Kadosh
(R. Yitzchak [“Reb Itzele”] ben Chayim Volozhiner, 1780-1849); and Malbim (R.
Meir Leib ben Yechiel Michael, 1809-1877). A full treatment of this approach is
found in the SHeLaH (Shenei Luchot HaBrit, R. Yeshayah ben Avraham HaLevi, c.
1565-1630) on our verse. Man, so to speak, wears two “skins”— the animal skins
he wears as shoes, and his own skin:
The physical body was fashioned by Hashem Himself from the dust of the earth, and so should be ADMAT KODESH; however, because of man’s sin it becomes base matter.
SHeLaH notes here three differences between Moshe and Yehoshua: Moshe is told to remove his shoes (NA’ALECHA), whereas Yehoshua is commanded to remove his shoe (NA’ALCHA); In the case of Moshe the ground is holy (ADMAT KODESH HU), but with Yehoshua the word ADMAT is not used (KODESH HU); After the command it says, And Yehoshua did so, but there is no such statement with Moshe.
Moshe was prepared to attain holiness from the moment of his birth: “And she saw him that he was good (Shemot 2:2) – The entire house was filled with light (Sotah 12a).”
Ultimately Moshe reached such an exalted level of prophecy that even his body was purified: The skin of his face shone (Shemot 34:29). Consequently, Moshe received prophecy without trembling or lapsing into a trance. Yehoshua, on the other hand, did not rise to Moshe’s level.
Thus, the place where Yehoshua stood is holy, while Moshe sanctifies the entire ground as the holy of holies. Since Moshe will attain the highest level of sanctity, Hashem instructs him to remove his shoes, meaning both to take off his actual shoes and divest himself of his body and purify it.
Yehoshua was ordered merely to take off his shoe, And Yehoshua did so. However, Moshe was commanded to dissociate himself from the corporeal, which is not a physical act, and thus it is unfitting to say that he “did so.” Moreover, even though he began this purification at the burning bush, the process was not complete until the Revelation, so it would be premature to say he “did so” now.
We conclude with the holy SheLaH’s words: “It is proper for a person to learn from this that one who is in a holy place needs to sanctify himself very well. And if he reaches a level of greater holiness he needs to sanctify himself more and more.”