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The Secret of the Shoes

Topic: Kabbalistic Concepts | Posted:December 10, 2014

In the portion of Vayeshev, the brothers sell Joseph for twenty silver coins. And what the Midrash says they do with those coins sounds initially very crazy. It says each of the ten brothers took two silver coins and bought shoes. So, there must be a secret here, because clearly, this can't be understood in its literal sense.

First, since there is a spiritual reason for everything, we have to understand why we wear shoes. It says in the Talmud, “Who ever does not have shoes is disconnected from the Light of the Creator.” So the spiritual reason we have to wear shoes, kabbalists explain, is not just because it is comfortable. We know that many negative things were created at the sin of Adam; one of them is the fact that the earth, and physicality, became a force that separates an individual from the Light of the Creator.

Therefore, it's read in the Torah that it's as if the Creator said to the land that the earth is now cursed. However, we know it's not a curse, but rather a reality that was created. Once an individual acts in a selfish way, as we all did when we were in that soul of Adam, the earth becomes a physical force that separates an individual from the Light of the Creator. The earth represents that physicality, and wearing shoes is the secret of how to separate ourselves from that force that is cursed, the force that separates us from the Light of the Creator.

We learn from this that when we do an action that is connected to the selfishness of the physical, two things happen. Let’s say a person thinks somebody did something to him and then reacts in anger towards that person. In so doing, you've done two things: the first is that through that negative action you've brought some negativity into your life. But the second thing, which may be worse, is that you have now, we can say in the spiritual state, taken off your shoes. You've now connected yourself to the curse of this physical world.

This physical world, to the degree that you put yourself into it, is disconnected from the Light of the Creator. And what is our spiritual work? To detach ourselves to the degree that we can from our ego nature, our Desire to Receive for the Self Alone, which is the physicality of this world. So when you do a selfish action, besides the negativity that you bring upon yourself through that negative action, you're also attaching yourself further into the physicality of this world.

And when you're attached to the physicality of this world, you're attached to that original curse. To the degree that you are attached to that physicality is the degree to which you bring that darkness into your life. But it's important that we realize, again, that there are two reasons not to do it. We don't want to do this selfish action, not simply because of negativity that it brings to you, but because now you've also taken one step further in delving yourself, in putting yourself into the curse of this world.

The secret of shoes, again, is not about the physical shoes that we wear, but about the ability to detach ourselves from the physicality of this world. When you restrict ego, you're doing two things: one, as we said, is you're not bringing more of that darkness into your life. Second, and maybe more important, is that you're taking a step back from being connected to the physicality of this world. And by taking a step back from the physicality of this world, you're taking a step back from the curse that exists in this world.

Therefore, one way to understand the purpose of our spiritual work, one way to understand why it's so important that we continuously detach ourselves from the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone, from all of this cursed physicality, is so that if a person is completely detached from the physicality of this world, he's completely detached from what we call 'the curse of physicality of this world' and, as such, he has a complete connection to Light of the Creator.

In The Gate of Reincarnations, the Ari writes, “Before Joseph, there was a great soul. He was a soul that was taken from this world.” It says that he merited to be directly connected to the Light of the Creator; so much so, in fact, that he became an angel called Matat. And the secret of the soul of Matat, the Ari says, is that it was reincarnated in Joseph.

It's a very strange Midrash; it says that the work of the angel Matat is that he sews together shoes, and that every time he sews a stitch he says, Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuto Leolam Vaed, which means, “Drawing down the Light of the Creator to rest forever.” But why is this elevated soul of Matat sewing shoes and why as he’s sewing each stitch does he say Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuto Leolam Vaed? The secret is, as we have said, that spiritually, shoes mean the action of disconnecting from the physicality of this world. And the work of Matat, the work of that angel, is to give us the ability and strength to take steps back from the physicality of this world. And by taking steps back from the physicality of this world, you take a step back from the curse and the darkness of this world and attach yourself more strongly to the Light of the Creator. Therefore, that’s the secret when it says that Matat is sewing the shoes. It means that he's injecting into our world, into every one of us, the ability to have that separation between ourselves and the physicality of this world.

This, we now understand, is why the Ari says the soul of the angel Matat was reincarnated into Joseph - because the entire work of Joseph is to give us strength even in the most difficult times. In his test with the wife of Potiphar, one of his most difficult tests, he was able to say, "No, I realize that if I succumb to my selfish desires I'm attaching myself to the physicality of this world.” And he didn’t succumb. Therefore, he's called Yosef HaTzadik, Joseph the Righteous, because he was able to, and had that strength and consciousness to, completely and continuously decide: “No, I am not going to connect myself to the physicality of this world, which means that I am attaching myself to the curse of this land.”

So, the secret of shoes, which is the secret of the angel Matat and the secret of Joseph, hopefully gives us the strength not to take a step further into the curse of physicality, but rather take a step back from it. And therefore, a gift we receive on this Shabbat is the knowledge from the angel Matat and from Joseph that before you do a negative action, before you do an action of selfishness, remind yourself that it's not just that through this action of negativity you bring some negativity into your life, but that also through this action you're putting yourself further into the physicality of this world, into the curse of this world.

Rather, what we want to do is receive greater and greater strength from Joseph and from the angel Matat and take a step further back all the time. We need to say to ourselves, "I’m going to detach myself from the physicality, I'm going to detach myself from Desire to Receive for the Self Alone, because I know as I do that, I both attach my soul to the Light of the Creator and detach it from the curse of this world.” That's the secret of the work of Joseph, the angel Matat, and of the gift and strength we receive on this Shabbat.

There's a lot more to this, but I want to end by saying something very simple: The only way to merit flowing blessings, which is the gift of Joseph, is if an individual is consistently working to detach himself from the physicality of the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone. And it's impossible for an individual to be connected to the source of blessing, which is Joseph, if he is not consistently taking steps further and further back in a continual detachment from the physicality of this world, from the curse of the physicality of this world. We have the opportunity on this Shabbat to receive the tremendous gift that Joseph and the angel Matat give us to merit these spiritual shoes.

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