Why no shoes on Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur? (Shabbos 129)

Moshe is shepherding Yitro’s sheep, when, all of a sudden, one little lamb runs off from the flock.  Moshe follows it and encounters a bush that is burning but not being consumed.  Moshe gazes at the strange sight, but is then stirred from his trance, by the word of God.

And God called to him from the bush, and He said, “Moshe, Moshe!”
And he replied, “I am here.”
And God said, “Do not approach any closer.  Remove your shoes from your feet, for the place upon which you stand is holy ground.”

אָמַר רַב יְהוּדָה אָמַר רַב: לְעוֹלָם יִמְכּוֹר אָדָם קוֹרוֹת בֵּיתוֹ וְיִקַּח מִנְעָלִים לְרַגְלָיו.
Rav Yehuda quoted Rav: One should always sell the ceiling beams of his house and purchase shoes for his feet.

Rabbi Moshe Chagiz explains why wearing shoes is so vital that one would be required to sell one’s house in order to have money to purchase shoes.  After Adam and Eve’s sin of the forbidden fruit, the Torah declares, “The earth shall be cursed.”  We wear shoes in order to avoid coming into contact with the cursed earth.  Consequently, whenever we encounter holy ground, we are enjoined to remove our shoes, such as in the Holy Temple, or when God spoke to Moshe at the burning bush.

This is the meaning of the daily blessing, writes the Agra d’Pirka, “Blessed are you Hashem . . . who has taken care of all my needs.”  Traditionally, the blessing is recited upon putting on one’s shoes.  Since shoes separate a person from the cursed earth, they represent all the blessings of Heaven’s provision of life’s necessities.  On Yom Kippur, he continues, when the Earth is elevated, shoes are no longer required.  Likewise, Tisha B’Av, the birthday, according to legend, of Moshiach, we do not wear proper shoes, demonstrating our belief in the imminent rectification of the Earth’s cursed status.

The Yissa Bracha asks why the Gemara instructs a person specifically to sell the ceiling beams, as opposed to any other possessions.  He answers that the ceiling separates us from Heaven and reinforces our worldly connection.  The proper separation should be between the person and the Earth, demonstrating our spiritual aspirations.

The Beer Yosef offers a different perspective on the purpose of shoes.  There are four levels of creation: domem (inanimate objects), tzomeach (vegetation), chai (the animal kingdom), and medaber (humankind).  Standing upon leather shoes that tread upon grass and pebbles demonstrates human dominion over the other levels of creation.  Twice a year, however, on Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur, we humbly acknowledge that we are not in control at all.  We remove our leather shoes and turn to the Almighty in contrition.  The meaning of the daily blessing is our recognition that, while we may believe we are in control, God is the true provider of all our needs.

While most of the morning blessings are in the present tense, the bracha for shoes is recited in the past tense.  We thank Hashem for having taken care of all our needs.  When you make the bracha, rest assured that the Almighty has already taken care of everything for you today, before you’ve even begun to set foot into the world.  May you go through your day constantly bearing in mind that God has prepared your every need and it will all work out for the best!

About the Author
Rabbi of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, London, UK.
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