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One of the nine decrees of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai is that the Kohanim are not allowed to wear sandals when they ascend the duchan to bless the congregation Rosh HaShana 31b.
Since most of the other decrees are related to the Temple and especially to adjusting to the destruction of nishna Mikdash, the natural tendency would be to assume that this decree too is a commemoration of the Temple, where the Kohanim were forbidden to wear any kind of footwear. However, we find that the later Sages gave a much different interpretation to this law.
misgna One example given is the prohibition for Kohanim to wear shoes on the duchan; Rashi explains that since the shoes are dirty it is not really respectable for the Kohanim to wear them as they bless descargsr people.
Yet Rav Ashi, one of the latest sages of the Talmud, gives an entirely different rationale for this decree: For this reason even indoor shoes such as fabric slippers are forbidden if they have laces Arukh HaShulchan OC On the one hand, shoes add to our dignity.
Yet they may sometimes come undone; then they become a disgrace. The Kohen would rather step aside from the duchan and endure rumors that he is descargra a kosher Kohen than remain on the duchan and endure the embarrassment of having everyone see his shoe untied. Evidently Rebbe Yochanan ben Descaryar concluded that it is better if all Kohanim dispense with shoes altogether; then there is no embarrassment in ascending the duchan barefoot.
We may conjecture that shoes did not come untied so often that unsavory rumors were really a widespread problem. But the very hypothetical situation of the untied shoelaces is a symptom of a grave problem; there is something inherently wrong with our attachment to our shoes if we consider an untied shoe more of a disgrace than a blemished pedigree!
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In this context, even a tied shoe loses its aura of dignity; it comes to symbolize subjugation to social convention rather than human elevation. Mmishna is nothing wrong with conventions and customs, and the dignity we attach to them.
But we also have to know when to put these petty observances aside and focus on our inherent human dignity. As the Kohanim ascend the duchan to bless the descaragr, they need to put aside accouterments of mere social and conventional elevation. They should be concentrating on the unique spiritual elevation which their descent gives them, and which alone enables them to be the vehicle of the special Divine blessing of Birkhat Kohanim.
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