The continued relevance of G-d’s one-liners never cease to impress me, and this week’s parsha (torah portion), Shemot (“names”), is no exception. Shemot tells the story typically spoken of during Passover. The Egyptians have enslaved the people of Israel, and Pharaoh has commanded the midwives to put newborn baby boys to death in the Nile River. Pharaoh’s daughter finds a baby boy in a reed basket floating down the river, who she cares for and names Moses. Fast forward to Moses pasturing flocks and approaching the mountain of G-d, where he sees a burning bush impermeable to being engulfed by flames. As Moses approaches the bush G-d graces us with this gem: “Take your shoes off your feet, because the place upon which you stand is holy soil.”
Inhale. There is so much to say about this statement! First, there are so many other places where you are asked to remove your shoes. The karate studio, yoga studio, in a bouncy castle, at the JMC, my mother’s house, when being admitted to the hospital, and so many more. There are the various meanings of shoes and their removal: grounding, vulnerability, discomfort, connection to the land, honoring the space you’re entering, breaking down a barrier, stripping away a guard, leveling the playing field. Shoes are considered ritually unclean in the Muslim faith and thus are removed prior to entering a Mosque. Shoes can also symbolize your material self and are removed or worn in a stripped down fashion during Yom Kippur. So much meaning and significance packed into one simple act! Exhale…so simple.
What I find so lovely about G-d’s statement is its simplicity. In our search for meaning and significance, and through our efforts to get closer to something special and holy, one very concrete step we can take is to remove our shoes (either literally or metaphorically). I find this action of removing one’s shoes has direct connections to meditation. To me it represents the simplicity of an act that can help bring us closer to our true selves, our grounded selves, or to something holy: our breath. This is not to deny or discount all of the various other more complicated, elaborate, and often beneficial modalities; however, it is to pay tribute to the simplicity of the breath itself and our practice of returning to it. Similar to the act of Moses removing his shoes at the presence of G-d, so should we remove the barrier between us and what is holy to us.
My kavanah (intention) for this week and going into the new year is to refresh the basics of our practice by reminding ourselves of the attention to the breath and the gentle return to the breath when we find our mind has taken another path. May we sit in the new year with a renewed appreciation of the magnitude of the breath.
Wishing the JMC community and family a happy and healthy new year!