A Tale About Shoes
Entering Parshat B'ha'alotecha is like entering into a novel. There is emotion, law, drama and wisdom all contained in a few packed p'rakim.
This Parsha seems to hit a new low for Moses and his leadership of the Hebrews, as the people complain dramatically about the food they are eating. Moses feels the weight of the burden of his role as a leader and begs God to end his misery. God does not allow this and Moses' leadership continues in leading this unruly and ungrateful group.
As always, I would recommend reading through this parsha, if just for the scope of the subjects that it covers.
Today's piece is more of a tale than a poem; perhaps a story for children with some things for adults to think about. I hope that you will bear with it as it approaches the burden of leadership in an unusual way.
Kol Tuv, be well.
A Tale About Shoes
Have you ever noticed the boots that construction workers wear?
Sturdy, muddy and heavy boots that help protect feet;
to get the job done.
Divers wear flippers so they can swim like fish
and athletes wear sneakers of all colors and forms.
Firefighters wear tall rubber boots
and ballet dancers wear toe shoes.
All sorts of people wear high heels and slippers,
loafers and flats.
Every specialized shoe is meant to enable someone.
even to empower.
No matter the color, the shape, shoes serve a purpose.
People put them on their feet and give them little thought,
with some exceptions.
Leaders wear many shoes.
There are as many shoes as there are leaders.
Sometimes old shoes, shoes with holes,
shoes made of leather or cloth,
open toed or closed,
heavy work boots or delicate sandals,
but if a leader wears shoes made of leather,
someone is sure to say,
"What were you thinking?"
"Your shoes should be made of cloth!"
"You are not doing what we have always done!"
If a leader wears shoes that are laced,
someone is sure to say,
"Your shoes should be simple slip ons!"
"Why would you do something like that?"
What's the matter with you?"
"What kind of a leader wears laced shoes?"
Sometimes a leader might try to switch shoes around.
Try zippers instead of ties, or cloth instead of leather.
Some people would look at the leader's feet and say
"Why would a leader switch to cloth instead of leather?"
"For sure, the leader has betrayed us. We cannot trust the leader anymore!"
The leader's feet might itch, squeeze and hurt.
The leader might go to bed at night and wonder how people can complain so bitterly
about something so small as shoes.
The leader tried all kinds of shoes, but could never satisfy everyone.
Finally, one morning, the leader decided not to wear shoes at all and appeared
before the people with not shoes at all.
The leader was barefoot.
"Barefoot! The leader can no longer lead! The leader sets a poor example for the people!" the people cried.
The leader stood barefoot and suggested softly to the people. "Tomorrow, try walking in your neighbor's shoes. See how it feels to walk in different shoes."
The next day the people grudgingly tried the leader's suggestion. Everyone traded shoes, from the old to the young. Sandals were traded for work boots. Tap shoes were traded for flip flops and big shoes were traded for small shoes. Big feet squeezed into tiny toddler shoes. Small feet flopped around in shoes far too large. Skinny feet swam in giant boots and people struggled to tiptoe while wearing toe shoes.
By the next evening everyone had blisters and their feet were sore and bleeding. As they sat and massaged their sore feet, the people were unhappy, not at their leader, but at themselves. They looked at their bruised toes and heels and wondered why they had spent so much time criticizing the leader's shoes. Squeezing their feet in other's shoes hurt not just them, but everyone.
The next morning the people limped to their leader and said, "Wear what you will. Laces or buttons, leather or cloth; but do what you do best, which is lead!" The leader said nothing, but quietly nodded, as leaders sometimes do, and quietly went back to the work of being a wise leader. And the people, each one of them, with their bruised and battered feet, quietly limped back to their homes, never to complain about each other's shoes again.
Moses heard the people weeping, every clan apart, at the entrance of each tent. יהוה was very angry, and Moses was distressed. And Moses said to יהוה, “Why have You dealt ill with Your servant, and why have I not enjoyed Your favor, that You have laid the burden of all this people upon me? Did I produce all these people, did I engender them, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a caregiver carries an infant,’ to the land that You have promised on oath to their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people, when they whine before me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all this people by myself, for it is too much for me.
Numbers 11: 10-14.(translation from Sefaria)