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The Sandal with the Nails
By Larry Fine
The Importance of Being Joyful on the Sabbath and Holidays
The pages of the Talmud are a sea of precious insights for our lives. One interesting discussion that was recorded in the Tractate of Sabbath is that which pertains to the case of the Sandal with Nails.
It seems that the Mishna mentions that one must not go out on the Sabbath with a sandal that has nails in it. The Talmud comes to explain the reason for forbidding this particular type of sandal.
Three scenarios are given:
First, Samuel says that the reason is that there were Jews who sought refuge from the various decrees which were made against them. They would hide in a cave to escape detection. Now according to Samuel, the sandal in question was made of wood with an upper covering of leather. The heal area and the toe area were exposed similar to an open toe slipper. The front was wider than the heal area and a because of this a person could mistakenly put the sandal on backwards.
Those Jews who hid in the cave would say, "who ever wishes to enter may do so, but who ever wishes to leave may not do so." The reasoning was that it was easy to see an enemy as one approached the cave and therefore upon sighting the enemy, the Jew would continue to walk but in another direction so that his friends in the cave would not be detected. But since one who desired to leave the cave could not see what was outside until he emerged and then was visible to the enemy; they therefore feared that if one person were to leave, he would be spotted and all would be endangered.
One day a person wearing a sandal of this type, but wearing it backwards as described above, entered the cave. When others looked out they saw his footprints, which since he had the sandal on backwards, appeared to them that some one had left the cave.
Fearing that the enemy had discovered their location and that they were soon to be attacked, there was mass panic in the cave. Many people were killed in the ensuing struggle to escape.
Rabbi Eloy, the son of Elazar, explained differently. He said that they were hiding in the cave and the enemy soldiers were marching on the rock which was the roof of the cave. The enemy was wearing sandal that were made with nails. The sound came into the cave. Again, panic ensued as the people feared that the enemy was coming to attack them. In that panic many people were killed as they struggled to escape.
Rami, the son of Yechezkiel, gave a different explanation. He said that the sandal with nails was more like cleats of golf shoes, where the nails were on the bottom and they protected the sole from wearing out. The Jews were hiding in a synagogue and they heard noises that sounded like the approaching enemy. The people panicked and in their attempt to run away they trampled on each other and many were killed.
From these occurrences, the mere sight of a sandal with nails was enough for Jews of that time to recall the disastrous evens that had transpired. This recollection of such a disaster caused people to become saddened. Although the sages did not forbid the wearing of sandals with nails in them during the week day, they instituted a decree that this type of sandals should not be worn on the Sabbath or on the Jewish festivals since these were times of joy and happiness.
Now although the Talmud continues to discuss in detail exactly what constituted a sandal with nails that the sages forbade us to wear, and what is not in the ban, we can see a very important principle here for us in regards to the Sabbath and the Jewish festivals.
The sages felt the need that the Sabbath and the Jewish festivals be days of joy and happiness. They saw that just looking at a sandal, an article of dress which possessed no inherent or intrinsic reason to forbid its usage, had become the source of depression for their time. Therefore the sages in order to keep the observance of the Sabbath and the Festival in the spirit in which G-d wanted us to keep them, made this decree that we not wear this particular sandal with nails.
The concept of joy and happiness is so important, especially for the Sabbath and the Jewish holidays that all which detracts and depresses must be refrained from. This is a central point in the Sabbath and holidays.
Although today the decree is not brought down in the Code of Jewish Law since it no longer causes us any discomfort or depression. However we may certainly learn from this the importance of avoiding those things which bring sadness such as speaking about unpleasant event.
In being careful about our speech, as well as our actions, our Sabbath and holidays will turn into a fountain of inspiration and joy that will bring us through those unpleasant events in the coming week and give us the fortitude to overcome difficulties from the past. Reading newspapers and books which discuss unpleasant subjects should be avoided.
The key is in your hands. Refrain from talking and reading newspapers on the Sabbath and festivals. When you turn your mind to G-d's literature and to His thoughts by praying devoutly and studying His Holy Torah on the Sabbath, then He will stand with you when you are doing your work during the coming week.
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