In the book of Exodus, while Moses is living in the desert as a shephard, one of his sheep escapes. Moses chases it, and then a famus Midrash tells us that he finds it drinking at a watering hole. "I didn't know that you were thirsty," said Moses to the sheep. Then, he takes the tired sheep on his shoulders to carry it back to the rest of the flock. It is at that point that he sees the burning bush, and is told by G-d to take off his shoes. 

During the encounter of the burning bush, the first thing that G-d says to Moses is to take off his shoes. There is a famous teaching on this- Moses had been brought up in luxury, as a prince in the palace of pharoah, And now, we find him living in comfort in Midian working as a shephard for his father-in-law. 

What G-d was telling him was in effect, that He had chosen Moses because of his concern for even the shmallest sheep under his charge, and in the same vein, he asks him to expose his feet to the hot desert sand. This is because a true leader in the Jewish tradition isnt in their position because of flashy speeches, an Ivy league law degree, or even their perfect white smile. They are worthy of their position because they feel the pain of their people. 

 When one has true empathy and concern for another, then they have truly moved past their sense of self. We literally feel their pain within us. Contrast this with the relatively shallow, even trite expressions used to comfort mourners such as "She lived a good life," or "at least she wasn't in pain." 

When someone is truly suffering, we are not in a position to judge what it is they need to hear at that moment. Instead, let's be there for them, and they will pick up on this. This will be infinitely more powerful than any words. Words are very limited, precise creations. No two words have precisely the same connotation- that is why there are two. In contrast, we learn in the Tanya and in Chassidic literature that emotions are above words- the source of words- and thus can never be fully contained by such a precise instrument. Words are only effective if there is a sincere sentiment behind them, the "soul" of the words. So let's cut right to the soul- other people intuitively sense when we truly love and care for them. 

This week let's all try to all move a little outside of our own internal monologues, and shatter our static, habituated sense of who we are. Let's lose ourselves doing things that we don't "Get anything" out of. This is the only way to be truly free-  moving outside of our desires and limitations by truly feeling the pain and joy of another. 

Have a Shabbat Shalom!! 

Shabbat Activity: Try to listen to someone describe how their day went without spacing out. On the contrary, be completely in the moment, giving them the feeling that someone is truly listening. Avoid talking about yourself for at least two minutes. 

Leave a Reply.


    Yaakov Grossman is a Jewish educator, author, private tutor/child care professional, and student in the Metro New York area. Professional inquiries should be addressed to

    RSS Feed


    September 2011
    August 2011


    Modern Orthodoxy