Holy Work on Holy GroundJanuary 12, 2024 - 12:00 am
“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.
For Jan. 12, 2024
Trust Toward the Lord
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding — Proverbs 3:5
We continue with devotional thoughts from the Book of Proverbs every Friday. One of the 11 books in the Torah known as the Ketuvim, Hebrew for “writings,” Proverbs is part of the “wisdom tradition,” which also includes Job and Ecclesiastes.
An inspiring story is told about a woman who witnessed her entire family being taken away to the death camps during the Holocaust and who was the only one to survive. She made her way to America where she married and looked forward to starting a family. Yet, twelve years passed, and the woman remained childless. One day, her doctor said to her: “I’m telling you this for your own good: Give up! You will never have a child. It’s time to move on.”
The woman left the doctor’s office understandably depressed. She boarded a bus, but when her stop came, she didn’t get off. She spent the whole day on that bus in a state of despair until the driver informed her that the day was done, and she had to get off. He said, “Listen lady, I don’t know what your problem is, but you’re not going to solve it by staying on this bus.”
The woman got off the bus and prayed quietly, “God, You were with me all along. You saved my life countless times. You brought me here. You let me start my life over, and so it is in Your hands. I have no right to give up. The bus driver is absolutely right—You didn’t save my life for me to live on the Madison Avenue bus. I won’t stop serving You no matter what and I also won’t give up.”
One year later, she had a baby. By the time the woman passed away at a ripe old age, she was the grandmother and great-grandmother to many children.
Trust Toward the Lord
In Proverbs we read: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” The original Hebrew reveals a deeper understanding of this popular verse. In Hebrew, instead of “Trust in the LORD,” the verse literally reads, “Trust toward the LORD.”
According to the Jewish sages, this anomaly teaches us that our faith in God cannot live in the past. Rather, our trust in God must be propelled toward the future. We have to use our past experiences of God’s providence to build a future based on faith. We must anticipate a good future shaped and created perfectly by our faithful God—just as He always has.
Your turn: Start the New Year off right by helping you and your family learn how to set priorities.