A Dead Man's Shoes?
by Rabbi Aron Moss
Is it true you are not allowed to keep shoes that belonged to someone who is now dead? As we were going through ym grandfather's possessions, my grandmother insisted on throwing away his shoes, including brand new pairs he never wore. Isn't it better to donate them to someone who can use them?
A medieval mystic, Rabbi Yehuda Hachassid, warned against wearing shoes that belonged to the departed. While he didn't share his reasoning, others have offered various fascinating explanations. Here's an ingenious one.
The Talmud, in a section on dream interpretation, lists various dreams that signal negative portents. One of them is if you dream of a dead person coming back and removing your shoes. Such a vision, says the Talmud, is bad news. It means that death will soon visit you.
A shoe represents our physical life. Just as the shoe is our connection to the ground, so our body is the soul's grounding in this world. This is why Moses had to remove his shoes when G-d spoke to him at the burning bush, why we don't wear leather shoes on Yom Kippur, and why angels are described as being barefoot. The absence of shoes represents the shedding of the body and identification with the soul.
In the symbolic language of dreams, a dead person removing your shoes means you are soon to shed your physical shell and join them on the other side.
You don't want to have such a dream. So the last thing you want to do is wear shoes belonging to a dead person. We dream at night what we think about during the day. Wearing those shoes will cause you to think about their departed owner, and that association may bring you to dream of them coming back to repossess their shoes. You have created your own nightmare.
Rabbi Yehuda Hachassid suggests a simple solution: sell the shoes to a stranger, and give the proceeds to charity. The stranger won't associate the shoes with the departed, and the poor will benefit from the sale.