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The Shoe Shine Man: Omer Day 48 – Yesod sh’be’Malchut

Wasn’t this man’s dignity more important than my shoes? 

On a recent trip with a friend, an encounter with a shoe shine man at the airport unexpectedly led me to reflect on the sefirot of Yesod within Malchut: the foundational structure on which we build majesty within our daily lives. Our foundational structures are comprised of and affected by the relational bonds we make with friends, family, co-workers, strangers, etc. In keeping with that idea, I’ve been reflecting on my relationships and how the people in my life influence the way I go about my days.

At the airport, a shoe shine man called out to me. I looked at my shoes. They needed buffing. I climbed up onto the massive shoe shine chair and set my feet up. I felt like a queen on her throne. 

I was wearing my favorite shoes. I’m not materialistic, but I do have a few objects that bring me joy. These shoes are what I imagine shoes should be. They are my shoe beshert, the perfect combination of comfort and fashion, slip on and Shabbat compatible. I bought them a year ago and have never worn them in the rain. 

My travel companion stood on my left, like a sage advisor. She had poked fun at my love of these shoes on several occasions and was doing it now. 

In one swift, irrevocable motion, the shoe shine man dolloped polish on my shoes and rubbed it in. It was the wrong color. I watched my beloved shoes darken in front of me. “What are you doing?” I said. “They’re changing color.”

“It’s the same color,” he lied and then began an elaborate explanation of how it will make them “pop.” “You will see,” he said. But I could already see. He’d ruined my perfect shoes and then proceeded to deny it. 

I wanted to yell at him and demand that he replace my shoes. 

I looked over at my friend, who looked on in horror, wondering how I would respond. Now this friend is a person I treasure more than even my shoes. She is wise and insightful. I’ve heard her countless times use compassion and understanding to advise others in much more difficult situations.

I took a breath and tried to channel the wisdom of my friend. Having her there as a witness helped me look at my own foundational structure, my Yesod. A core component of my foundational structure is the belief in the preservation of human dignity. The sefirah of Malchut is about enacting God’s majesty in our world, and through our choices, we make God’s presence more visible or distant. 

The shoe shine man had also been made in the image of God and deserved kavod (respect). He had made a mistake, and this was his livelihood. He probably feared that I would yell at him and demand that he replace my shoes. Maybe he didn’t feel like he could afford to do that. I also considered my position. He was literally at my feet and I held all the power. We all knew what had happened. I knew, my friend knew, and the shoe shine man knew, too. Wasn’t this man’s dignity more important than my shoes? 

As much as I wanted my shoes replaced, I wanted to be a decent person more. And I didn’t want my friend to see me lose my temper with the man. It was the bond with that friend that guided me toward the better choice. I thanked the man, paid him, and gave him a small tip.

On the 48th day of the Omer, take a few moments to reflect on the relationships in your life that help you navigate the everyday more gracefully. 

Nicole Fix is a recipient of the Elizabeth George Foundation Grant and was a finalist for Glimmer Train's Very Short Fiction Award and the Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction. Publication credits include Post Road Magazine and the Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry. Nicole co-curates and produces the monthly reading series: The Lantern at HiFi Bar in the East Village. She performed at The Moth: Faith Lost and Found, a community workshop. In addition, she was awarded an arts fellowship at The Drisha Institute for Jewish Learning, where she spent two years studying classical Jewish texts. Nicole co-founded the New York City–based, award-winning theater company, Page 73 Productions. She holds a BFA from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and an MFA from the Yale School of Drama.  

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