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Barefoot Faith: A New Shavuot Revelation
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JOFA Blog

Barefoot Faith: A New Shavuot Revelation

Photo credit: Jackson Krule
Photo credit: Jackson Krule

For many of us, a perk of working or studying from home is doing so in comfortable slippers, if not altogether barefoot. I have to admit, however, that after one week in flip-flops, I felt the urge to wear shoes, even if just to Zoom meetings. 

All the garments we wear enable us to function in various situations and roles. And shoes hold a particular enabling function; empowering us to step out from the safety of our homes, and hold our stride while confidently traipsing over all sorts of surfaces or debris. Of course we could theoretically and often do step out in flip-flops, but the confidence of our step is often relative to the sturdiness of the shoe.

In Judaism, shoes, or more specifically their removal, frame key moments. We approach the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, by removing our leather shoes. Pilgrims would remove their sandals on approaching Har haBayit, Temple Mount. Moshe’s very first Divine encounter at the burning bush is characterized by the instruction: 

‘ שַׁל־נְעָלֶ֙יךָ֙ מֵעַ֣ל רַגְלֶ֔יךָ, remove your sandals from your feet:’ (Exodus 3:5)

 

The Bat Ayin (Rabbi Avraham Dov of Avritch 1765-1840) interprets this instruction as a prerequisite to revelation. The confidence (בטחון) that the well-shod pedestrian experiences is rudimentary. Such faith is limiting, and Moshe is therefore told to step out of such secure constraints to access the higher level of faith required to experience a Divine encounter.

As we enter the shloshet yemei hagbalah, the three days of preparation for Shavuot, we are anticipating the loss of our traditional Shavuot experience. If the ‘reduced company’ Pesach was strange, at least it is a home-based festival. Shavuot is at its core a synagogue-based festival, centered around the reading of the Ten Commandments and the all-night tikkun leil.

With lockdown still in place in most of our communities, how can we experience Shavuot?

I believe that we can draw on two important features of our lockdown experience to access a Shavuot revelation that is particular to this year. 

I believe that we can draw on two important features of our lockdown experience to access a Shavuot revelation that is particular to this year. 

First, in our extended barefoot living we had to let go of the easy confidence, autonomy and freedom that comes as effortlessly as putting on shoes. Our casual stepping out turned into navigating ambiguous and unknown territory. 

Second, we have experienced living with a higher degree of daily uncertainty than ever before; from our health, job security, and economy, to securing the most basic of daily provisions. We have had to adapt ourselves to living in the moment. 

This faith demands that we anchor ourselves entirely in the moment, let go of our impulse to stockpile for tomorrow, and our urge to exert control over our future. 

Midrash Tanhuma comments that Torah is only revealed to those who eat manna, לֹא נִתְּנָה הַתּוֹרָה לִדְרֹשׁ אֶלָּא לְאוֹכְלֵי הַמָּן (Beshalah 20). To be sustained by manna demands a deep reserve of faith: consuming that day’s entire provision (that if stored, would rot overnight) and trusting that a new batch will fall again the next day. This faith demands that we anchor ourselves entirely in the moment, let go of our impulse to stockpile for tomorrow, and our urge to exert control over our future. 

This year we approach Shavuot through the covid pandemic and lockdown, a situation we did not choose or wish for, yet it offers an opportunity for a deeper faith. 

We stand at the foot of Har Sinai barefoot, as manna eaters, primed with new faith and unprecedented capacity for Kabbalat haTorah. 

 

Rabba Dina Brawer was born and raised in Milan, Italy and studied in Jerusalem,  New York and London. She holds a BA in Hebrew and Jewish Studies from the University of London and an MA in Education and Psychology from the Institute of Education, London and Semikha from Yeshivat Maharat. She is the founder of JOFA UK , and the producer of  #YourTorah podcast, a journey to discovering Mishnah. She currently serves as Director of Recruitment and Admissions for Yeshivat Maharat. 

 

Posts are contributed by third parties. The opinions and facts in them are presented solely by the authors and JOFA assumes no responsibility for them.

If you’re interested in writing for JOFA’s blog contact dani@jofa.org. For more about JOFA like us on Facebook or visit our website.

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