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ב"ה

The Kabbalah of Shoes - שמות

Friday, 8 January, 2021 - 11:04 am

The Kabbalah of Shoes 

As Moses approached to see the intriguing sight of a bush burning and not being consumed, G-d spoke to him for the first time. G-d instructed Moses to take off his shoes: 


The Lord saw that he had turned to see, and G-d called to him from within the thorn bush, and He said, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am!"

And He said, "Do not draw near here. Take your shoes off your feet, because the place upon which you stand is holy soil." (Exodus 3:4-5)


"Remove your shoes from your feet" indicates that shoes don't belong on holy soil. Yet, there are many references in Judaism where shoes are highlighted in the context of holiness. One example is in the Song of Songs, which portrays the love between G-d and the Jewish people through a metaphor of the love between man and woman. Amongst the many praises the man uses to describe the beauty of his beloved, the verse states:  


How fair are your steps in shoes, O daughter of nobles! The curves of your thighs are like jewels, the handiwork of a craftsman. (Song of Songs 7:2)


The Talmud explains that the verse is a metaphor describing the beauty of the Jewish people as they would travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the three pilgrimage holidays of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot:  


Rava taught: What is the meaning of that which is written: "How beautiful are your steps in shoes, O prince's daughter" (Song of Songs 7:2)? How beautiful are the feet of the Jewish people at the time when they ascend to Jerusalem for the Festival. 


Every physical phenomenon originates from its spiritual equivalent, which is its source. What is the spiritual root of the "shoe"? The Kabbalists explain that the attribute of Malchut, Divine speech, which is the lowest of the ten divine attributes, is the only attribute which can be expressed within creation. The energy of the higher attributes is too powerful to be contained within creation. The verse states: "So says the Lord, "The heavens are My throne, and the earth is My footstool (Isaiah 66:1)". Malchut is likened to the "foot", the lowest part of the body, which "descends" in order to give life to the lower worlds. If the Divine energy of Malchut constantly vitalizes the entire universe, why is the Divine presence concealed? Why is it so difficult to sense G-d's presence on earth? This is, explain the Kabbalists, because of the "shoe" which conceals the "foot".   


Chassidic writings explain that the metaphorical "shoe" exists within every Jew. The name of our third patriarch, Yaakov, Jacob (which becomes a name of the collective Jewish people) consists of two parts: the letter yud, and the word akev, which means heel. Another name for Jacob is the name Israel, which represents the soul's essence, which hovers above the person remaining in the subconscious (or, more accurately, in the supra conscious). The name Yaakov represents the yud, wisdom, which is invested in the akev, heel; the dimension of the soul, which is clothed within the body. 


If the heel represents the soul, the spark of G-d within us, then the shoe, which conceals the heel, symbolizes the animal soul, the self-oriented drive which seeks nothing more than physical survival and material pleasure. 


Shoes have two characteristics (1) they are generally made of leather, the hide of animals (2) the primary purpose of shoes is to allow the person to walk, and they are especially beneficial when traveling long distances. The animal soul, our metaphorical shoes, has these two characteristics as well: (1) the substance of the self-oriented soul is animalistic, it doesn't see beyond the mundane and the tangible (2) the animal soul, the shoe, allows the G-dly soul, the foot, to travel on this earth, reaching landscapes and horizons it could not reach without the shoes. For just as an animal has more physical force than a human, so too, the animal soul possesses greater passion and excitement than does the G-dly soul. If we channel its energy toward love of G-d, if we can tan the hide, then we have successfully created a figurative pair of shoes: animal energy strengthening and intensifying our love of G-d.


On the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, we remove our leather shoes. When Moses stood on the sacred soil at the burning bush, G-d commanded him to remove his shoes. Because in the presence of holiness, we focus on our G-dly soul. Yet, the Song of Songs teaches that a truly beautiful sight is the climb to Jerusalem with our shoes. The ultimate spiritual beauty is achieved by transforming the animal soul's passion into fuel that propels us on our ascent to the holy city of Jerusalem. 


Adapted from Lekutei Torah Shir Hashirim 43:4 




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