Monday, April 02, 2007

Take your shoe off your feet

In the Haftara of the first day of Pesah, read tomorrow, we read how Yehoshua conducts a mass brit mila (one wonders if he did metzitza b'peh [oral suction of blood] on all those adult males), celebrates the Pesah with matza and roasted dry kernels (who would dare eat the latter on Pesah today?), whereupon the man [manna], the supernatural food that sustained us for 40 years in the desert, ceases forever and we eat the produce of the earth. Then a figure with a drawn sword appears to Yehoshua, who asks him if he is for us or for our enemies. The figure replies that he is God's heavenly Chief of Staff, just as Yehoshua is God's "Ramatkal" [Chief of Staff] on earth. The angel then, in a scene recalling Moshe at the burning bush, tells Yehoshua to take off his shoe, for the ground on which Yehoshua stands is holy. But now there is a twist. Moshe is told to take his shoes - ne'alekha - off his feet - raglekha, plural. Yehoshua is to take his shoe - ne'alkha, singular, off his feet - raglekha, plural. Presumably God's Chief of Staff did not attend a black yeshiva and could hold up his end of a Hebrew conversation. Something calls for an explanation but the classical mefarshim [commentators] (at least the ones Artscroll quotes) are silent. And the plot thickens. We read raglekha as plural, but the unvoweled Hebrew text is singular, without the yod. In the absense of commentary from the classical sources, I will venture an explanation. Moshe and the generation he led had a unique existence, not duplicated before or since. He and his people could immerse themselves totally in kedusha [holiness]. They were completely free from the cares of daily material existence. No worries about parnassa [making a living]; food came down from the sky. Water came from an inexhaustible traveling well. Their clothes not only never wore out, but the children's clothes grew with the children. Ananei kavod ["clouds of glory"]protected them from enemies - no need for an army. Those people had nothing to do but study Torah! Not so with Yehoshua. He and his people would have to involve themselves in the hurly-burly of statecraft. They had to conquer Eretz Yisrael from formidable enemies who (except for the Girgashi) were not going to leave on their own. Then they would be burdened with all the political and economic cares of running a state. Total immersion in kedusha would not be possible; only one shoe can come off as it were. But, Yeshoshua is told, aim high. He is not the head of another Uganda. His nation has a higher calling. Even if Moshe's level was impossible to attain, it is the goal nevertheless. His reach should exceed his grasp, or what's an Israel for?
Hag Kasher v'Sameah.

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