During the Yom Kippur War, Golda Meir visited a tank battalion on the Golan Heights. An IDF soldier asked the Prime Minister, “My father was killed in the 1948 war, and we won. My brother lost an arm in the Six Day War, and we won. Last week I lost my best friend and we’re winning. But is all our sacrifice worthwhile, Golda? What’s the use of our military power if we can’t have peace?” The Prime Minister answered with compassion, “I weep for your loss, just as I grieve for all our dead. I lie awake at night thinking of them. And I must tell you in all honesty, were our sacrifices for ourselves alone, then perhaps you are right; I’m not at all sure they would be worthwhile. But if they are for the survival of the whole Jewish people, then I believe with all my heart that any sacrifice is worthwhile.”
The obvious connection to our parsha is found at the beginning of the haftarah (Amos 2:6-3:8), which begins: “Three crimes did Israel commit but the fourth I cannot forgive, because they sell the righteous (“tzaddik”—this is the source for Joseph’s appellation “Yosef HaTzaddik”) for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes.” In addition to referring to the perversion of justice for the poor during Amos’s lifetime, the Rabbis understand this verse as an allusion to the sale of Joseph. The Torah (Bereishit 37:28) only mentions “twenty pieces of silver” as part of the sale—what does Amos add by mentioning that the shevatim also received shoes as payment for their brother?
These are not the only “missing shoes” in our parsha. Immediately after the sale of Yosef, the Torah interrupts the narrative to tell us about the story of Yehuda and Tamar, the prototype for Yibum (levirate marriage). In this incident, two of the deceased brothers, Onan and Shelah, as well as Yehuda, failed to uphold their familial responsibility to Er by taking in Tamar. As we learn in Devarim (25:9), a person who fails to honor their brother’s legacy must perform Chalitza, a ceremony in which the widow removes her brother-in-law’s shoe, spits before him, and says “Thus shall be done to the man who will not build up his brother’s household! And that family (“mishpacha”) shall be called in Israel ‘the household of the one whose shoe has been removed.'”
By refusing to take in Tamar, Yehuda and his sons had become a “household of the one whose shoe has been removed” and a family who failed in their familial responsibility. In this example as well as in the incident of Mechirat Yosef, shoes represent the breakdown of Yaakov’s family, which led directly to the descent of the Children of Israel into Egypt.
Perhaps this understanding of shoes helps explain the strange instructions given to the Jewish people prior to their exodus from Egypt: “And this is how you shall eat it: with your loins girded, your shoes upon your feet, and your staff in hand; you shall eat it hastily – it is Hashem’s Passover” (Exodus 12:11). Prior to leaving Egypt and entering Israel, the Jewish People had to strap on their shoes to demonstrate that they were a unified nation and a reunited family.
The importance of the national Jewish family is emphasized by our haftarah: “Hear this word that Hashem has spoken against you, O children of Israel, about the entire family (mishpacha) that I brought up from the land of Egypt” (Amos 3:1). Unfortunately, in Amos’s time, the leaders and laypeople ignored the plight of the disadvantaged and did not view the poor and vulnerable as members of the family. The Navi rebukes the Jewish people for social injustice and reminds them that their ancestors bore the brunt of the long, oppressive exile in Egypt in order to bring them together as a family.
In the midst of battle, Golda Meir empathized with the IDF soldiers serving on the Golan Heights. She understood that these precious soldiers had suffered and carried an extra burden on behalf of the Jewish people. Golda also appreciated that this tragic sacrifice was necessary to provide safety and security for the entire family of Israel. Just as shoes are bound to one’s foot, the Jewish people are tied together as one mishpacha. The more we can recognize our bond with each other today, the greater we can rectify the rupture caused by the sale of Yosef thousands of years ago.
Rabbi Tuly Weisz is the director of Israel365 and editor of “The Israel Bible,” and Rabbi Dr. Ethan Eisen is a psychologist and a new Oleh to Israel, as well as a rebbe in Yeshivat Lev Hatorah. Please send comments to Haftarah@TheIsraelBible.com