Spiritual but Shoeless

When I was seven, my parents signed me up for swimming lessons which I dutifully attended. For the first three days, the teacher discussed buoyancy, backstroke, and breathing.  We never even got into the water.  The next weekend my parents took us to a pool.

My father, eager to see what I had learned, asked me to demonstrate.  I explained that I would need a blackboard.   This did not impress my father.  He walked me to the deep end of the pool deck, picked me up and promptly threw me into the water. After a moment of shock, I began swimming.

This method of instruction, let alone fathering, may not be in favor today.  Personally, I remember feeling rather proud of how quickly I learned to swim.  But whatever you think of the methodology, there is a lesson to be learned. The best way to own new information is to apply it. Few of us would want to be operated on by a surgeon who aced his written exams but has never wielded a scalpel. There is a reason that driver education courses take place in the car as well as the classroom.

We need both theoretical and practical information.  One is mental and spiritual— in our heads.  The second, the application of that information, is usually physical and occurs in our interface with the earth and the physical reality it represents.

The mathematics and physics in the head of Sir Gilbert Roberts, designer of the Bosphorus Bridge, is spiritual information.  When the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company then linked two continents with a delicate web of steel, it was practical, physical application.

We humans do best exquisitely balanced between spiritual and physical, suspended between heaven and earth.  We must connect to heaven but not to the extent of losing touch with earth.  Such people pray all day and neglect their jobs and families.

Likewise, we must connect to reality—the earth—but not so overly connected that we start ignoring spiritual truth.  Such people squander their lives in hedonism.

Even animals deemed kosher and suitable as food follow this principle.

Kosher animals must have a hoof lifting them off the ground, giving them a touch of spirituality, so to speak. However, if they are utterly isolated from the ground by having a solid hoof, like a horse, for instance, the animal is not kosher.

All who have a split hoof… you shall eat.
(Leviticus 11:3)

 Ancient Jewish wisdom places great emphasis on shoes, the human equivalent of hooves. They serve to distance us slightly from the earth and the suggestion is made that even valuable assets, if necessary, should be sold in order to afford shoes.

However, we must never lose all touch with the physical world. When God called upon Moses, thus lifting him far into the heavenly realm, shoes prevented necessary contact with the earth. So God said:

 …take off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.(Exodus 3:5)

The Permanent Principle is that as God’s children we must not live floating in heaven, disconnected from reality, nor should we live anchored to earth and incapable of soaring to spiritual heights.  Instead, we must live between heaven and earth—within reach of both but locked to neither.

We need the spiritual as well as the physical; we need information and we need to be accomplished at applying that information in the real world.  Knowing medicine but refusing to heal would be an aberration.  Knowing business principles but refusing to serve the needs of customers would be equally aberrant.

Like swimming, driving and surgery, learning about something doesn’t mean being able to do it.  First attempts to apply the knowledge may be faltering and clumsy. But anything worthwhile in life requires effort and work.

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20 thoughts on “Spiritual but Shoeless”

  1. My father just told me a joke. I think you will like it Rabbi.

    A man went to his doctor, asking him for the retirement’s papers. A doctor took his tool to measure patient’s blood pressure and heart rate. And said NO, you’re not going to retire yet. I can still here your heart beats! :))

  2. David Tei Mbuvi

    Thanks, Rabbi. I am reminded when I checked into a hotel for a seminar. I read on the notice board we have swimming coaching sessions. I was so excited. I even boycotted a session to go and be coached or trained how to swim.

    As I approached the swimming pool, with my payment receipt as proof of payment, the pool attendant smiled and asked me to feel at home and swim. I was astonished. I thought he would ask me, yes, you wish to learn how to swim, okay, these are the rules

    As he read my face full of the message I have paid my friend to learn, he stood right in front of me and said, I am only here to save you from drowning. To learn to swim you must jump into the water. I can’t jump in on your behalf. It’s safe to swim since I am here to make sure you are, I know you don’t know that’s why I am still around.

    I learned my lessons and to date, I remind myself, yes I have paid, but paid to be safeguarded as I do the swimming.

    Thank you, Rabbi

    David – Kenya

  3. John Thomas Themalil

    Ancient Indian ‘sanyasins’ (ascetics) used to go around begging, barefooted. (Also, Franciscan , and monks from certain sects ). I wonder if they had a primeval understanding of Ancient Jewish Wisdom prompting them to float between heaven and earth . I say ‘ancient’. Modern ones move around in RR, and those less fortunate in BMW, or Benz . . .

  4. I listened to your July 31 podcast and eagerly went to your website to find your e-book download of The Holistic You. Unfortunately I have been unable to locate it. Am I missing something? I have listened to many of your podcasts and find them inspiring and thought-provoking. Keep up the good work!

  5. Just started listening to you on YouTube and reading your book. Discovered you through Dave Ramsey. Learning a lot from both of you. Thank you.

  6. Amazing story Rabbi! How did being tossed into the water suddenly effect your relationship with your father in that moment? On the topic of Kosher Animals, I learned from another Rabbi that that is so also because the animals have one vein in the neck, while the non-kosher ones have two veins. When blood leaves the brain the animal is dead, when there is only one vein to the brain and is cut, death is quick and the animal suffers less.

  7. My father would have done the same thing! We learned to swim without life jackets but wore them when appropriate. Thanks for the reminder that we truly are suspended between heaven and earth =)

  8. One of those cases where I have nothing to add but a enthusiastic, “Amen”
    A Presbyterian elder thanks you for an excellent post.

  9. There is a method of learning/teaching called Watch one, Do one, Teach one. The learner learns deeper with each progression. Watching is superficial learning. Doing is a little deeper learning. Teaching is even deeper learning. Maybe the being chunked in the pool was the progression to the Do one stage.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Hey Kendall-
      I hear you but I suspect that to my dad it was far more primal and basic. The kid needs to learn to swim in a pool not a classroom.

  10. Greetings,
    Years ago at Myrtle Beach, my dad went into the hotel room for a brief moment. My sister and myself , elementary age, were left in the swimming pool. We both had Tony the Tiger rafts to help keep us from drowning. Tony the Tiger was known for Cereal Cornflakes. I took the raft off, and the “Tony the Tiger raft with the flow of the water, floated to the deep end of the pool. Invisible me, Denise, went to his rescue. He was floating away. I could not swim. Deeper and deeper and deeper I slipped away. My footing no longer touching the bottom of the pool. Until a huge gulp of water took my breath away. My sister in her safe raft, rescued me. By then my raft had come to a rest under the diving board. Those memories stayed with me. So much that years ago, on a Large Cruise Ship, I summoned my beloved Husband, Benny to go above and see if we were sinking. Now ponder with me, I heard a large gush of water and I stayed below, sent him to see if the ship was taking on water. To my surprise, the Hubby, returned and said without a smile, Get up we have docked in the Bahamas, and the crew is filling the swimming pool above our room. Well there it was again. The ole pool. And no swimming, Denise. Remember the folks in the boat? Remember Jesus walking on the water? I still at the age of almost 60 years old, still can’t swim…….. but the Holy one, who parted the sea, calmed the storm, and walked on the water, is the Very Holy One, My Savior, who taught me,
    The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.
    Exodus 14:14
    Denise Shue
    Sanford NC

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks for writing Denise–
      Funny how these old memories stick with us and perhaps even still shape ways we feel and think.
      But why not learn to swim now? It would be a fun challenge for you.

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