Sefer Shemos introduces us to one of the most important characters in Tanach, Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe is the one who leads Bnei Yisrael out of Mitzrayim, through the desert, to Eretz Yisrael. He is the greatest Navi of all-time, the only man to see Hashem “face to face” (one of the Thirteen Principles of Faith is that there will never be another Navi like Moshe). When Hashem gave us the Torah on Har Sinai, it was Moshe who brought it down to us. Throughout our history, we have never and will never have another leader of the same capacity.
Parshas Shemos tells the story of Moshe’s path to his becoming the leader of the Jewish People. His first conversation with Hashem is at the famous site of the Burning Bush. The Meforshim here compare this first meeting between Moshe and Hashem to the first meeting between Hashem and Yehoshua, Moshe’s student who succeeded him as leader. They use these comparisons to show how great Moshe was that even at this very early stage of his prophesizing, he was still much greater than Yehoshua at his height.
When Moshe sees the bush burning while not being consumed, he becomes curious and begins to approach the bush. Hashem quickly calls out to him, “וַיֹּאמֶר אַל תִּקְרַב הֲלֹם שַׁל נְעָלֶיךָ מֵעַל רַגְלֶיךָ כִּי הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עוֹמֵד עָלָיו אַדְמַת קֹדֶשׁ הוּא” “[Hashem] said, ‘Do not come closer to here, take off your shoes from your feet, for the place upon which you stand is holy ground” (Shemos 3:5). By Yehoshua, he is approached by a man who identifies himself as a messenger of Hashem and then says, “וַיֹּאמֶר שַׂר-צְבָא יְהוָה אֶל-יְהוֹשֻׁעַ שַׁל-נַעַלְךָ מֵעַל רַגְלֶךָ כִּי הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹמֵד עָלָיו קֹדֶשׁ הוּא” “The commander of Hashem’s legion said to Yehoshua, ‘Remove your shoe from upon your foot, for the place upon which you stand is holy.’…” (Yehoshua 5:15). There are two differences in the language of the pesukim. First, Hashem tells Moshe to remove “נְעָלֶיךָ" "your shoes”, but by Yehoshua, he only tells him to remove “נַעַלְךָ" "your shoe”, in the singular. The second difference is that by Moshe the place is referred to as “אַדְמַת קֹדֶשׁ” “holy ground”, while by Yehoshua, the pasuk does not say the ground is holy, only the place. What was the meaning behind these differences?
The Gemarah in Baba Basrah (75a) explains the difference between Moshe and Yehoshua by comparing Moshe to the sun and Yehoshua to the moon. The explanation of the Gemarah is as follows, there are two aspects a person must use in order to lead, his intellect and his physical body. The idea is to perfect both of these aspects to be able to use them completely for spiritual purposes. Most leaders are able to use their intellect and wisdom for spiritual purposes and lead in that sense. However, Moshe was so great that he was also able to completely disconnect his physical body from this world and use it completely for the sake of Hashem (as we see clearly from the forty days and nights he spent on Har Sinai, learning the Torah, without eating or drinking). For this reason, he is compared to the sun which gives light from all sides. Yehoshua also was able to lead Bnei Yisrael through his incredible wisdom and intellect but at the same time could not distance his physical body enough from the physical aspects of the world in order to use his physical traits to “light up” Bnei Yisrael from that side as well. So he is similar to the moon which has one side lit up while the other side always remains in the dark.
Using this, we can understand Rabbeinu Bachya who explains Moshe and Yehoshua taking off their shoes as them separating themselves from the material world. Yehoshua was only able to completely separate his intellect from the physical world, so Hashem told him to take off one of his shoes, to show that he was holy in only one aspect. But Moshe, who was able to separate himself physically from this world as well, was told to take off both his shoes, symbolizing his separation from this world in all aspects. This idea continues through to the second difference as well. For Yehoshua, the ground was physical, and therefore it itself was not holy, only the location itself was holy since Hashem was there. But for Moshe, the entire physical world was only there to serve Hashem, therefore, the very ground itself on which Hashem appeared was holy! That is why the pasuk by Moshe calls the ground, “אַדְמַת קֹדֶשׁ”, but not by Yehoshua.
This explanation leads to a third difference between these two revelations. When Moshe approaches the bush, Hashem tells him, “אַל תִּקְרַב הֲלֹם” “Do not come closer to here” (3:5). Only by Moshe does Hashem tell him not to come closer to this holy spot, but not by Yehoshua. Why is this? If anything, I would have assumed the opposite, if Moshe was greater than Yehoshua, shouldn’t he be able to come closer to Hashem? The Kli Yakar explains that Hashem was telling Moshe that specifically because he realized that the ground was holy, he could not come any closer. Someone who realizes where he is walking is holy knows not to walk there. But someone who does not realize where he is cannot be told to stop, he does not understand why not! There is nothing there to stop for! Only someone who appreciates the fact that Hashem appearing in a place makes the actual physical dirt holy, can be told not to come any closer. This is why Moshe was greater than Yehoshua and why his revelation was different.
The Torah’s introduction to Moshe shows us immediately what type of person he was. Through the nation’s travels through the desert, and our journey through these parshiyos, there is no better role model for us than Moshe Rabbeinu, someone whose entire physical and mental being was completely geared towards serving Hashem. As we take this journey together, let us do our best to understand this amazing feat and take guidance from it for our own lives.
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