Holy Work on Holy Ground

Yael Eckstein  |  January 11, 2024

Yael Eckstein points at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in the distance

Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” — Exodus 3:5

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Shemot, which means “names,” from Exodus 1:1–6:1.

When I first began to work at The Fellowship, my father, Fellowship Founder Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, took me to visit some of the recipients of our aid. The experience was painful for me. It was hard to see so much suffering and hardship. I asked my father if he thought that it would get easier for me to see such difficult scenes, but he responded that he hoped it never would. He explained that it is only when we are sincerely pained by the suffering of others that we are moved to do everything in our power to alleviate it. 

It’s a lesson I never forgot.

Holy Work on Holy Ground

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn that the first thing God ever said to Moses was that he needed to remove his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. The Jewish sages explained that this directive carried a deeper message for the future leader of Israel than we might think at first glance. 

Shoes provide a cushion between the hard ground and our vulnerable feet. They give us protection against elements like snow, rain, rocks, or thorns. With the right pair of shoes, you can walk anywhere without feeling discomfort. With shoes on our feet, we are immune to pain and discomfort. 

However, on that fateful day, God wanted Moses to be uncomfortable because he was standing on holy ground. God wanted Moses to feel every rock, pebble, and grain of sand. While we usually protect our feet from feeling anything, our feet are actually an extremely sensitive part of the body. And at that moment, God wanted Moses to be extremely sensitive. 

Moses was about to become the leader of the Israelites. Taking care of God’s people is holy work and indeed, Moses’s new position placed him on holy ground. God wanted Moses to understand from the very beginning that in order to do God’s holy work, Moses needed to remain sensitive to the pain and needs of God’s children. 

Insensitivity is a trap that we can all fall into. It is hard to sympathize with the hungry if your stomach is always full or to feel for the homeless when we have warm houses to come home to. But if we want to be a part of God’s holy work, we must remain acutely sensitive to the needs of His children—and then do our best to meet them. 

Your Turn:

Think of a time when you had to rely on help from others. How did that feel to be in need? Let those feelings encourage you to help others.

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