If a married man dies without having any children, his brother is required to either perform yibum (affectively marrying the yavamah – the widow) or chalitzah. The thirteenth perek, discusses the process of chalitzah. One of the essential components involves the yavamah untying and removing the brother’s right leather shoe in front of the beit din (See Mishnah 12:6 for a description of the entire process). There are many other areas in Halacha where leather shoes are removed. For example, on Yom Kippur we do not wear leather shoes and mourners also remove their shoes. The question may be asked, what significance does the lack of leather footwear entail? To answer this question, the ideas brought by Rabbi Akiva Tatz (Letters to a Buddhist Jew, p273-274) will be presented.
Rabbi Tatz writes as follows:
You will notice that whenever a complete transcendence is experienced, it is facilitated by removing the shoes. The key is this: the shoes are to the body what the body is to the soul. Just as the shoes carry the body over rough ground, the body carries the soul through the world.
Rabbi Tatz continues using the shoe-body, body-soul relationships to explain transcendent experiences. For example the kohanim in the Beit Ha’Mikdash did not wear shoes. Similar Moshe was told to remove his shoes when Hashem spoke to him. “Contact with the higher world that necessitates detachment from the lower world is expressed by the removal of shoes.”
Likewise on Yom Kippur, he notes, we break from the regular mode of elevating the soul through the physical, and engage in “temporary asceticism to free the soul.” The removal of shoes presents one dimension of this endeavour.
In a similar vein, he explains that mourners remove their shoes in an expression of empathy with a soul that has left its body. He also notes that the parallel between a corpse and shoes expresses itself in a Halacha which requires one to wash their hands after touching them.
Yet how are we to understand the removal of the shoe as part of chalitzah? Rabbi Tatz explains as follows:
The deeper understanding is that such a marriage brings down a reincarnation of the deceased brother; the widow marries the living brother, a spark of the same root soul, to bring a child into the world for her late husband. The child is in fact an incarnation of the deceased...
But if her brother-in-law refuses to marry her, she removes his shoe. She is saying to him in very clear Torah terms: “You are refusing to marry me and bring down a child for your brother; you are keeping body and soul apart.” What clearer image could there be to express this than separating of foot and shoe?
The Melechet Shlomo (Yevamot 12:6) also draws a connection between performing chalitzah and mourning. Quoting Rabbeinu Yechiel, he explains that the widow comes before beit din and laments that her husband has died without any off-spring. Not wanting to perform yibum the brother declares that he does not desire to take her. The implication is that he is not concerned that his brother has died without offspring. The response is for her to remove his shoe, thereby saying now you should certainly mourn for your brother as he has died without offspring.
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