Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"Take off your shoes, for the ground on which you stand is holy."

This question recently came up in a class at the shul when we were talking about the life that Moshe found in Midian.  It seemed that he was finally comfortable there, finding a wife and a life away from the oppression of his fellow Israelites.  He must have appreciated being away from all of the violence and the culture of oppression that he was around in Egypt.   It would be interesting to see how he would have been affected psychologically from killing a man (I am not sure anyone has done a comparison between Moshe and others who have taken lives), and interesting to consider that he would have appreciated being away from the place of that incident.  In Midian, he could have found peace.  

When Moshe names his son Gershom "I was a stranger there" most people (see the Hertz Chumash) read this as "I was a stranger in Egypt.  I was not royalty, but one of the Others" which most take to mean a move towards solidarity with the Israelites.  But it seems just as plausible to mean "I was a stranger in that environment.  I wasn't comfortable despite my luxurious surroundings.  That was not my place."  He could only know his discomfort and a sense of dislocation  when he found a place where he did fit, namely Midian.

This heightens the personal drama and highlights the sense of self sacrifice of Moshe.  Moshe left Midian after seeing the burning bush and re-entered Egypt where he would be uncomfortable and in danger.  He, in effect, chose dislocation for a sense of conviction.  He cast aside fashion and comfort for a cause he believed in.  

A question:  Most commentators read God's command to Moshe to remove his shoes near the burning bush as a desire to keep refuse which could have accumulated on Moshe's shoes away from the ground which was holy.  But could it be that when God appeared to Moshe and said, "Take off your shoes, for the ground on which you stand is holy" that God meant to teach that Holiness has nothing to do with comfort, fashion, or intermediaries (as represented by the shoes), but it has to do with engagement and real feeling (whether good or uncomfortable)?    


Max "Bunny" Sparber said...

I tried to use Gershom as my Hebrew name for a while, but people kept insisting on calling me Gershon.

Micah Kelber said...

neither are as good as bunny.