When Moses discovered the burning bush, G-d called out to him, “Remove your shoes, for the land that you are standing on is holy (Ex. 3:5).” This is probably one of the most famous stories in the Torah, and Judaism teaches that all the words and stories of the Torah contain relevant, eternal lessons for our personal service and relationship with G-d.
Serving G-d, and relating to Him can be a daunting task, and we might feel impaired from the start. If I wasn’t raised in a religious home, how can I learn to pray in the synagogue like everyone else? If I didn’t attend a Yeshiva, how could I study the vast libraries of Torah knowledge, or even read the words of the Talmud?
G-d’s message to Moses was, “the land that you are standing on is holy.” Wherever you stand, whatever upbringing you have, and whatever environment you find yourself starting from — that’s a holy place. The opportunity to learn is ever present, and G-d is ready to help you come closer to Him and learn to serve Him in your own special way.
This all sounds good in theory, but it is often a challenge to take advantage of the opportunities to learn and be of service to G-d. It’s embarrassing to be a beginner, or to show our imperfections. This may fuel the many excuses that surface when we embark on improving our service of G-d.
To this G-d says to Moses, “Remove your shoes.” There’s a barrier between Me and you, between where you are, and your holy potential. Any growth requires us to remove the barriers and take the humble steps to be willing to open ourselves up to G-d’s help.
Wherever we stand in life, it’s a holy place and there’s the opportunity to learn how to come closer to G-d. If we remove our shoes, our personal barriers to our holy pursuit, G-d is ready to welcome our service, and to bring us closer. (Based on Chofetz Chaim al HaTorah)
Then why are we required to wear shoes to be considered appropriately dressed when we pray? It seems to me that we should remove our shoes, especially when we pray at home where we need not fear stepping on something unhealthy or painful.
Interesting question Sarah. The priests who served in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem actually did serve and pray without shoes. You can imagine that was quite challenging working in the open air on marble floors, so there was a chamber in the temple that had a fireplace for those priests to warm themselves.
What the burning bush and the Holy Temple had in common was G-d’s Divine Presence. In these places of Divine revelation and focus it was respectful to remove the shoes, but that practice was reserved only for the most holy locations. Metaphorically though, as I wrote in the piece, all places have the potential for holiness if we remove our metaphoric shoes 🙂