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SHOELESS

by Eyal Feiler    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"Jacob dreamt, and behold. A ladder was set earthward
and its top reached heavenward . . . And behold.
Hashem was standing over him"
(Genesis 28:12-13).

"Hashem called out to Moses from amidst the bush"
(Exodus 3:4).

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"Jacob dreamt, and behold. A ladder was set earthward
and its top reached heavenward . . . And behold.
Hashem was standing over him"
(Genesis 28:12-13).

"Hashem called out to Moses from amidst the bush"
(Exodus 3:4).

Amongst the parallels to be drawn between Jacob's encounter with G-d in the dream of the ladder, and Moses' rendezvous with G-d at the burning bush, we know that both occurred at holy sites. Rashi, the fundamental commentator on the Torah, points out that Hashem appeared to Jacob while he was sleeping on Mt. Moriah, the future site of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple). Moses meets Hashem at Mt. Sinai, the site where the Jews will receive the Torah after the exodus from Egypt.

Interestingly, only Moses is told by Hashem to remove his shoes because he stands at a holy site. Why isn't Jacob told to do the same? The question becomes even more glaring when one considers the fact that Mt. Sinai, the site of Moses' meeting with Hashem, was only considered holy while Hashem's presence was evident. As Rashi points out in his commentary to the Talmud (Tractate Beitzah), when G-d departed from the mountain, the Jewish people were permitted to step on the mountain. In contrast, Mt. Moriah retains its holiness forever, even when the Temple no longer stands (see Mishnah Tractate Megillah). Certainly when Jacob declares, "What a fearful place this is, it is none other than the house of G-d and the gateway to the heavens" (Genesis 28:17), he should have been commanded to remove his shoes.

Rabbi Ben Zion Firer, a contemporary Torah scholar in Israel, sheds some light on this question by introducing another passage from the Talmud (Tractate Baba Metziah) which states that one should always adapt one's custom to his current locale. For example, says the Talmud, when Moses went up to the heavens to receive the Torah, he mirrored the angels in the heavens by refraining from eating and drinking. Similarly, when the angels came to visit Abraham in his tent, they partook of food and drink even though angels normally do not require any physical nourishment. In other words, when one is in a foreign "domain", the individual should follow the lead of the "host".

This model explains Moses' behavior. He removed his shoes at the burning bush because he came into the "domain" of G-d, as the Torah states, "And Moses came to the mountain of G-d" (Exodus 3:1). Moses, as a "guest" in Hashem's domain, must follow the custom of the heavens and remove his shoes "because the place where you stand is holy" (ibid. 3:5). Jacob was also in G-d's domain. However, Jacob didn't actively enter into the domain, G-d's presence came to him. As Rashi indicates, Jacob was in the city of Luz, and the distance to Mt. Moriah was shortened on his behalf whereby a miracle happened and the mountain came to him. Now, the roles are reversed. G-d becomes the "guest" and Jacob is the "host", whose custom must now be followed. Therefore, Jacob was not required to remove his shoes during his encounter with Hashem.

Today our methods of approaching Hashem are through prayer and Torah study. We must always remember that during these encounters, it is we who are the "guests" in Hashem's domain. Therefore, our approach and behavior must be synchronized with the expectations of the heavens.

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Eyal Feiler, a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta and Yeshiva University, writes from New York.

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