My children constantly take off their shoes. When they get into the car, the first thing they do is remove their socks and shoes. When we come home, they immediately remove their shoes. Everywhere we go, they are constantly shedding their footwear.
Maybe they like the feel of the air against their feet. Or maybe they know something that I don’t.
In this week’s Torah portion, when Moses reached the burning bush, God called to him and said, “Take your shoes off your feet for the land that you are standing on is holy ground.”
Why did he need to remove his shoes? Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron of sixteenth-century Poland explained:
“The path is always full of sharp objects and stones. When one wears shoes, one can easily step on the small stones lying on the way, almost without feeling them. However, when walking barefoot, one feels every small thing lying on the ground, every thorn, every painful stone.”
Rabbi Shlomo explained that God told Moses to take off his shoes because a leader “must feel every obstacle and every impediment which lies on his path. He must feel the pain of his people and realize what is bothering them.” In order to encounter holiness, Moses had to experience the challenges along the way.
Like Moses hearing God at the burning bush, becoming a parent is sacred endeavor. Parenthood calls us to drop our guard and open ourselves up to feeling fully. Some of our feelings are wonderful – as we hold our child and marvel at them. But some of these feelings, like the stones on the ground, are painful such as exhaustion or listening to the baby crying and trying to soothe it. Nonetheless, like Moses, we must feel it all. For only then can we encounter God and live more deeply.
I once heard a Holocaust survivor named Gerda Seifer speak about her time in hiding during the war. During the days, she hid in a crawl space in the attic, not big enough to stand up or move. She longed to walk outside in the sunlight in the sunlight, barefoot, and feel the grass beneath her foot. Her wish was simple, but at the time, as a Jew in Poland, it was impossible. With war raging in various parts of the world today, for many people walking safely outside is still an impossible dream.
Even on my most challenging days, Gerda’s example has to power to snap my life back into focus. Each time I am outside with my children, I make sure to take off my shoes for a while and remember that even just being outside in freedom with my children is a precious privilege. This simple action has become an important spiritual exercise for me, a daily reminder of how blessed I truly am.
The daily bumps on the road of parenting can sometimes make us lose our balance. To regain perspective, I offer this advice: Go outside, take your shoes off, think of Gerda, and smile.