Rabbi Yaakov Haber’s brilliant discussion of the Parsha from last summer.

I have often mentioned the insight I once heard in the name of the Sfas Emes. When Moshe Rabeinu approached the burning bush he heard G-d speak to him. “Take off your shoes!” G-d commanded. “You are standing on Holy ground.” Why did G-d command Moshe to take off his shoes and not to cover his head or prepare his heart? The Sfas Emes explains that there is a great difference between walking with shoes or without them. With shoes one can walk over stones, glass, water, even fire and not feel a thing. Without shoes, even in the comfort of ones own home one can feel everything. Step on the slightest protrusion, even a little Lego and the pain climbs right up the spine.

Hashem told Moshe that if you want to hear the word of G-d, if you’re going to be a leader of the people you must take off your shoes. You must remove the insulation that you wear to protect yourself from the environment. It will hurt but you must be able to feel every bump, every pebble and crack; you must be able to feel the pain.

It is only the individual who can be endowed with Prophecy and holiness.

This Parsha begins with Eikev and goes on to describe the most wonderful blessings possible on this Earth. Rashi teaches that “Eikev” which actually means heel, talks of the “small” mitzvahs, mitzvos that are easy to ignore; mitzvos that we step on with our heel. The major blessings of life, it seems, depend on the small insignificant mitzvos of the Torah.

Yet when we leaf through the Parsha we don’t find any small Mitzvos.
1. Remember that G-d was the one who took you out of Egypt.
2. Don’t forget G-d.
3. Thank G-d for your food.
4. Fear G-d.
5. Pray to G-d.
6. Love the stranger because you were a stranger.

These sound like heavy duty Mitzvos to me. Why Eikev? What makes these Mitzvos small?

The answer is that although these mitzvos are not small they are easy to ignore. They are mitzvos that require deep thought and high sensitivity. It is very easy for us to do all the big mitzvos while we insulate ourselves completely from showing gratitude, love and feeling the pain of the stranger. To this the Torah says take off your shoes. The heel is one of the most sensitive parts of our body. Take off your shoes and feel where you came from, your surroundings and where you are going. The Mitzvah of Eikev is to exercise our sensitivity and keep our feelings healthy. Try to imagine what it feels like to be hungry and then feed the poor. Imagine what it feels like to be alone, and then make a shiduch. Think about what it would feel like to be disabled and than go visit the sick. Eikev Tishmiun, if you can listen and feel, than G-d too will feel our pain “veshamar habris vehachesed shenishba liavosecha.”

Before Moshe approached holy ground he took off his shoes. Before the Kohein walks into the Holy of Holies he takes off his shoes. On Yom Kipur and Tisha B’Av we take off our shoes. Before we walk into marriage, parenting or a life of mitzvos we too must take off our shoes and then be blessed with the blessings of the Torah “I will Love you, multiply your offspring and sustain you forever”.

About the author

Rabbi Yonah


  • Why don’t the Orthodox spell out all of G-d? I know it’s because there is a chance that if they spelled out the whole word it could be defiled, however what makes the English word for G-d holy? It makes a lot of sense to do that with Hebrew, but what makes the general English word G-d special?

    (I know, kind of confusing because I did the G-d thing too, it was just out of respect)

  • read what you type the reason why you don’t spell G-D fully is “out of respect”

  • Yeah, but why is it necessary to show respect for the English word?

  • Our Rabbi gave an interesting take on this last Shabbat…

    Something to the effect that you walk heel-toe, putting your heels first. So the “heel” mitzvot are the way to move forward on the righteous path. I thought that was cool.

  • Wee-oh! Great post, Rabbi Yo. I never thought of all that.