The thousands of years of exile has wounded and at times singed the soul of the Jewish people Exile is a cruel and demanding master as it tears a people from their moorings and moves them further from their welcome shores. It takes great fortitude and faith to remain “whole” It takes even greater faith to take the exile out of the exiled even after the exile begins to end. That is the subtext of the experience of modern day Israel. Yet in exile one finds the seeds of redemption.
The book of Exodus describes the formation of a people and the formation of its leader occurring at the same time. Both the people and its leader will need to grow in the midst of adversity and loneliness. Yet neither the people nor the leader can be ready to step into their respective roles until both are ready.
The people of Israel at this point, are still a very diverse and perhaps still estranged family. Each of the brothers has been blessed with very distinct and unique blessings .those blessings will become very different passions, challenges and goals. Yet it is this very diverse and passionate family that will need to be forged into one people. The furnace of the Egyptian slavery will do much in that regard. On the other hand, that very same experience of slavery may deny them the hope to believe that anything else was possible in their lives. It may in fact erase the possibility of hope. They will need to yearn for that hope or the process of redemption will be stalled. After hundreds of years of bondage and slavery, the children of Israel were on the verge of losing that hope.
Yet when an opportunity arose, their deep yearning burst forth as a sigh
“And it came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God saw the children of Israel, and God took cognizance of them.” (Exodus 2:23-25).
This marked the beginning. Yearning then began to water the seeds of hope.
Moshe on the other hand also had to undergo a process.
The young Moshe had ventured out of Pharaoh’s palace to explore the state of his people. He sees a Hebrew slave being beaten almost to death. After looking around and seeing that “there was no man around” (Exodus 2:12), he intervenes and kills the assailant. Later when he tries to intervene between two Israelites fighting, he is chastised by one of them As a result, Moshe escapes to Midyan when he realizes that “the thing ( ha Davar) is known.” (Exodus 2:14)
Our sages explain that “the thing( ha Davar) ” that became known was an answer to a question that was perplexing Moshe .Could these Israelites be capable of rising up and achieve liberation? Had they sunk so low? In frustration and despondency, Moshe escapes to Midyan and he is not heard from for over sixty years. He escapes into anonymity.
It is only after the age of eighty, sixty years later, that he is confronted with the burning bush on the mountain of G-d. So Moses said, “Let me turn now and see this great spectacle why does the thorn bush not burn up?”( Exodus 3:3)
When G-d sees that Moshe turns to see this unusual sight He sees a man ready to step into destiny, much like the sigh of his people.
Hashem 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!”( ibid:4)
Yet before Hashem explains further, He says to Moshe
“Do not draw near here. Take your shoes off your feet, because the place upon which you stand is holy soil.” (ibid:5)
The Nefesh HaChayim (R. Chayim of Volozhin, 1749-1821) sees the relation of the body to the soul akin to that of the shoe to the body. Moshe is told to be ready to step out of his physical reality and experience in oreder to truly understands the spiritual subtext of life.
Other sages focus on the word “holy soil-Admat kodesh”. Moshe is told to feel the ground upon which he is standing for that is where he came from and that is where he is returning. In other words, be humble and do not let arrogance and pride blind you from understanding the holy truths that abound.
Reb Nachaman taught that The words “Take your shoes ( Naalecha) off your feet (Raglecha)” hint at another truth. The words “your shoes (Naalecha)” whisper of another Hebrew word Manulim or locks. The word “your feet” ( Raglecha) ” is related to the word Hergelecha or your habits.
Moshe is being told that in order to understand what HaShem is truly doing in the world and what Moshe’s role will be in that , one must remove the locks or constraints in our lives put there by our habits and societal norms. Only then will Moshe understand the message of the burning bush.
That message was that just as this small burning bush was not to be consumed, the people of Israel, his people, were not to be consumed by the fires of slavery, either. Moshe is clearly being told not to lose faith in his people. He needs to understand that the experience of exile and difficulties becomes the fertile ground of true liberation. In the midst of all the mudslinging during this time of political elections, it is something we need to remember as well