Parshas VaYeishev - Dancing Shoes

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 12/07/17

The prophet Amos proclaims that G-d could overlook the three cardinal sins of idolatry, adultery and murder but he cannot forgive having sold a tzaddik, a righteous man for silver, and the destitute one for the sake of a pair of shoes.(עמוס ב ו)

This verse alludes to the brothers having sold Yosef for money and using the proceeds to each by themselves a pair of shoes. Is it for the cheapening of Yosef in having sold him for a measly pair of shoes that they are being chastised? Are the implications here that were they to have received a larger amount of money and bought something more worthy they would have been exonerated for their behavior? Certainly not!

One of the righteous individuals who lived in the generation before the deluge was Chanoch. He is described as having ‘walked with G-d’. G-d summoned him before his time and transformed him into the angel מטטרון, Metatron, and was appointed שר הפנים, the Interior Minister, referred also as שר העולם, Minister of the World. The mystical teachings reveal that Yosef possessed the soul of Chanoch. the Torah refers to Yosef as a נער, a youth, which is numerically equivalent to מטטרון, adding its number of letters as well. The stone on the breastplate of the Kohen Gadol upon which Yosef’s name was inscribed was the שהם, Shoham stone, which is an acronym for מטטרון שר הפנים, Metatron, the Minister of the Interior.

We are taught that Chanoch was a shoemaker, more accurately a תופר מנעלים, one who sews shoes, who would designate spiritual dedications with each stitch declaring, ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד, Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity.

The saintly Tzemach Tzedek explains that the soul is likened to a foot and the body to a shoe. In the cosmic realm the shoe represents the physical world in all its aspects that conceal the רגלי השכינה, the ‘feet’ of the Divine presence. Just as the thick leather sole shields us from the rocky terrain we tread upon, in similar fashion the layers of material existence often prevent us from sensing the Divine Presence which exists in every facet of creation. The Holy Maggid of Mezritch describes this painstaking process that Chanoch engaged in as the revealing of the כח הפועל בהנפעל, the power of the Creator in Creation, even in the thickest and lowliest places. His declaration of Boruch Shem... allowed the hidden presence of the Divine to illuminate even the darkest of spaces.

Although the Kabbalists and Chassidic Masters interpret Chanoch’s endeavor in so glorious of terms, transforming a very mundane activity to the most elevated of experiences, it is attributed in the name of the renowned Baal Mussar and ethicist, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter a completely divergent approach.

Rav Dessler quotes in his name that it would be inappropriate while engaged in a professional responsibility to someone else, to allow one’s mind to roam off the task, for it may lead to inferior quality work. Rather what the sages are teaching us is that when Chanoch set himself to his occupation he would dedicate each stitch to be the most perfect of stitches so that the wearer would benefit and enjoy his shoes in the best way possible and receive his money’s worth of investment. There is no greater pronouncement of G-d’s presence and sanctification of His Name than in emulating His attributes of kindness and honesty, gaining the admiration of one’s clients.

Did Reb Yisroel really deny that which the Maggid of Mezritch taught?

Often in life we get caught up in objectives that are noble, elevated and purposeful. In the course of achieving our goals we trample on others who stand in the way of our beliefs and aims. Sometimes it is a battle for what we perceive as truth and at times we are merely so focused on reaching our goals we are callous to those on the sidelines.

G-d created a world of שלום, literally peace. But peace doesn’t do justice as an accurate translation. It means more definitively a world of שלמות, wholesomeness, a world where it is possible to create harmony among its components, that when accomplished expresses the most exquisite of feelings. Any objective that disrupts concord in its path, no matter how great of an accomplishment it may be cannot be called שלם, complete.

What Reb Yisroel was advocating was for us to never to lose our pursuit of absolute שלמות, integrity, even in the quest for the most spiritual of experiences and achievement.

Certainly Chanoch lived with an aspiration to reach the highest levels of dveikus, spiritual connection, but never at the expense of losing sight of the trees.

The brothers, as Yosef, had very different approaches to achieving their state of perfection as the bearers of the legacy of the Avos. Yosef was overly eager, misreading his brothers activities and reporting them a bit too zealously to their beloved father, Yaakov. The brothers too, underestimated the greatness of Yosef seeking rather to dispatch with that whom they perceived would interfere with the attainment of the greatness destined for them. It was all for a noble cause.

Yaakov quietly observed the tension calculating how best to maneuver his children toward harmony with one another.

In what might seem as naiveté, Yaakov asks Yosef to go to Shechem to check on his brothers’ welfare. Didn’t he realize the animosity that existed towards Yosef? What was he thinking in sending Yosef into the lion’s den?

ויאמר ישראל אל יוסף הלוא אחיך רֹעִים בשכם... לך נא ראה את שלום אחיך ואת שלום הצאן (בראשית לז יד), And Yisroel said to Yosef, “Your brothers are pasturing in Shechem, are they not?... Go now, look into the shalom/peace of your brothers and the shalom/peace of the flock.”

The holy Ohev Yisroel, the Apter, teaches that the term רֹעִים, pasturing, also connotes רֵיעוּת, camaraderie. Yaakov acknowledged to Yosef his brothers’ purely motivated desire to achieve the harmony necessary to foster their roles as the שבטי י-ה, the Tribes of G-d. He mentions they are בשכם, in Shechem, an acronym for ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו, Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom, affirming that is their honest goal.

Yaakov has confidence that Yosef now possesses the qualities and sensitivities necessary to achieve shalom, harmony. Yaakov in emphasizing both the שלום, peace, of the brothers and the sheep, was a reminder to never lose sight of the שלמות, the perfect congruence of all worlds in order to create a true wholesomeness. Tending to the sheep is a metaphor for the need to assure that every facet of engagement needs to be attended to and never neglected in the pursuit of a greater goal. In a world of shleimus, it’s all or nothing in the endgame.

The Midrash states that from this request to seek ‘the peace of the sheep’ we learn that a person should inquire of the welfare of all things we derive benefit from. This is not merely a lesson in gratitude but more importantly a directive to create concord in every aspect of the world, for our ultimate objective is to discover that natural harmony that exists for all who seek it.

Yosef was equipped and ready but the brothers weren’t. In a clearly divinely channeled directive they are destined to not only process that quest for harmony in the course of the sequence of events that follow in the ensuing portions, but they would begin a journey that would challenge them for a while to come. First they would descend to Egypt and experience the slavery and suffering that was ordained from on high, but would also continue through the many years of exile until such time as we would finally perfect our act.

Until we can work all together not merely collaboratively, but in absolute and genuine friendship and appreciation, despite our differences, we are yet destined to continue that search for shleimus.

We can look at shoes as simply an expedient that allows us to journey into the world in order to accomplish our goals, or we can choose to dance in those shoes exulting in the presence of G-d that inspires each step summoning us to live in joyous harmony at all times.

Yosef understood the value that each stitch brings to the shoe. He cast an aura of kindness and understanding even to the lowliest criminal condemned to death sitting next to him in a dark cell. He was patient and persistent in never permitting himself to lapse in ‘tending to the sheep’ properly.

The brothers treated Yosef like a pair of cheap shoes, not attentive to the loving details in every stitch that he sewed, as he traversed that tightrope of human relationships.

It has been observed that the word used for a stitcher, תֹפר, have the same letters as the term used to describe Yosef as a פֹתר, interpreter of dreams, as well as the appellation conferred on him by his father Yaakov in his blessing to him as a בן פֹרת, a charming son.

Yosef was one who constantly sought G-d’s presence in every endeavor. He looked to ‘interpret’ every encounter in that light. One who uncovers that wholesomeness merits radiating it in kind from his persona and captivates all who he meets with that divine grace.

The Greeks appreciated the harmony in the beauty of the natural world but never accepted a notion of concord that transcends towards the spirit. Without a recognition of that which unites all aspects of creation in body, spirit and purpose, the world is doomed to endless conflict.

The Rambam chose to conclude the Laws of Chanukah with a remarkable statement:

גדול השלום שכל התורה ניתנה לעשות שלום בעולם, Great is peace because the entire Torah was given to create peace in the world.

It is not peace but rather shleimus that Torah brings to the world. Only through the prism of Torah, the very essence of G-d, can each moment, each interaction, each experience inspire us to dance joyously with our shoes on!


א ליכטעגען און פרייליכען חנוכה,

חנוכה שמח ומאירה,

צבי טייכמאן