In this week's parsha, Shemos we read about Moshe's first encounter with
Hashem while shepherding his sheep in the barren wilderness.
Hashem revealed Himself to the future leader in a supernatural manner from
within the burning 'sneh'- the desert bush. Moshe witnesses the bush ablaze
in fire without being consumed and is thoroughly baffled by this phenomenon.
Hashem's first words to him as he communicates to him from within the bush
are, "Remove your shoes from your feet for the land upon which you are
standing is holy."
The whole scene is cloaked in mystery. What is the significance of the
burning bush? Why couldn't Hashem communicate with him directly, without the
medium of a bush? Why did he have to remove his shoes?
The commentaries explain that the sign of a true leader is one who
intimately senses the pains and travails of his people. Although Moshe was
estranged from his Jewish roots while living in Paroh's palace, his heart
and mind were churning in the cement and mortar with which his enslaved
He was overwhelmed with the epic question; why were Hashem's chosen and
beloved children so persecuted and forsaken? Where was Hashem when their
babies were tossed in the Nile, when they were being ruthlessly tormented?
It is the same question we Jews have grappled with throughout our long and
blood-soaked exile, until this day. Where was Hashem when we, his chosen
people, were driven from country to country, maligned and reviled, led like
sheep to the slaughter house?
Hashem communicates to Moshe His reassurance that while He may appear at
times to be remote from His suffering people, in reality He is at their
side, suffering along with them. The wild thorn bush symbolizes the people
of Israel. A product of the desert, lowly and despised, the thorn bush
relies on infrequent rainfall for its survival. So, too, the Jewish people
in Egypt seemed abandoned by Hashem, as if drifting about at the mercy of
Yet, Moshe is shown an amazing, uplifting sight; the bush withstands the
raging flame. Although fire is essentially a destructive force, it is also
the source of light and warmth. Similarly, in the darkest moments of our
exile, when we feel the brunt of His anger, Hashem's loving presence
radiates with an even greater intensity. He hears our cries and feels our
suffering. It is this faith that has helped us survive millennia of
But how are we to internalize this message in the midst of anguish and
The answer lies in Hashem's opening words to Moshe: "Remove your shoes from
your feet." The commentaries explain that just as shoes cover the lower
extremities of the body and allow them to connect to mother earth, our
source of material sustenance, so, too, the physical body is but a
protective covering to the soul. That covering allows the soul to maintain
itself in our dark physical, temporal world.
By telling Moshe to take off his shoes, Hashem was essentially telling him
to transcend the finite parameters of the concrete mind and body with which
we perceive and interpret the world around us. Only by interpreting world
events with a spiritual, transcendent gaze can we experience Hashem's loving
Yes, to our naked eye the galus may sometimes seem to be a vale of
never-ending torment and tears. But when we look beyond the physical
exterior, we perceive that the lifeless clod of earth beneath our feet is
imbued with Hashem's presence. Although we may not understand the purpose of
it all, we are secure in the knowledge that all of our travails are stepping
stones to an ultimate triumph.