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Friday, 24 January 2014

Sneakers or Crocs on Yom Kippur?

Yoma 78

G-d created the world for our enjoyment.

We are forbidden to wear leather shoes on Yom Kippur.  How about sneakers or crocs?  They’re pretty comfortable, aren’t they?  Shouldn’t they also be prohibited?

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi would wear bamboo sandals on Yom Kippur.  So would Rabbi Elazar of Ninveh.   Rabbi Yehudah would wear sandals made of reeds.  Abaye’s were made of palm-branches.  Rava made his from twisted reeds and Rabba bar Rav Huna would tie a cloth around his feet.   Only leather shoes are forbidden.

What’s the problem with leather?

When Adam and Eve were created, G-d said to them: I have created this world for your enjoyment and mastery.   There are four general levels of creation: inanimate objects, vegetation, the animal kingdom and human beings.  We are allowed to benefit from the three lower categories and are granted dominion over them.

One day a year, however, we are told to stop and humble ourselves before the Almighty.   On this day, G-d tells us, just like he told Moses and Joshua, “Remove your shoes.”   Stop thinking that you are the master of all my creations, that you have the ability to do whatever you like to my creatures for your enjoyment.  Today, you shall not tread upon my other creatures.

That’s why only leather is forbidden; it’s a reminder to us that we are not truly masters over anything without G-d’s sanction.  G-d granted us dominion over the animal and other kingdoms and life-forms in order to serve Him.   

Does that mean we can’t enjoy worldly pleasures?  Absolutely not.  Judaism does not preach asceticism.  Au contraire, we have many mitzvoth that encourage us to take pleasure in this world.  On Shabbat, we are instructed to eat good food.  On festivals, we are told to be happy and our Sages add, ‘there is no joy without meat and wine.’  Throughout the week, we are enjoined to eat healthily in order to have the strength to serve the Almighty.

Just like Adam and Eve who were given a landscape filled with earthly pleasures and told, “Of all the trees you may eat, but of the Tree of Knowledge, you shall not eat,” G-d similarly blesses us with a world combined with permissible and forbidden pleasures.  Our mission and challenge is to partake of the permitted and abstain from the prohibited.  And like the message of the Yom Kippur shoes, we can never forget our purpose in this world.  We were created to serve the Almighty. 

We can and must partake of worldly pleasures, but when we do, we must constantly ask of ourselves, how can this help my spiritual service?   How can I use this to make the world a better place and connect with my Father in Heaven?

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