the dust of their feet are the souls of your home

The Shechinah, God's divine presence in the world, is often depicted as a hen hovering over her chicks; caring for her children, protecting her nest. The Notzer Hesed (1:4) explains the mishna:
יהי ביתך בית ועד לחכמים - let your house be a house of gathering for wisemen. like so: You should make the Schechinah your house. The Schechinah is referred to also as a house of gathering because all take shelter beneath her and are nourished by her. So he explains the deeper lesson to be learned from this saying is that one should make their permanent dwelling with the Shechinah, and not get caught up in a physical house.

This is something difficult to comprehend, and (I imagine) once comprehended, even more difficult to put into words, so lets look a little at Parashath Yitro where the Maor Eynayim explains why it is that we fall, and how to recover from such falls. (See this recent post for a reference to the same Maor Eynayim) He says that in order for us to attain a new level, we must first experience a fall. There's no such thing as growing without first being challenged. (Rav Kook also says something very similar, in fact the previous sentence is actually a paraphrase of what Rav Kook said.) So, when HaShem wants to give us a new and more elevated level, we first experience a fall, and cling with our emunah to God from this new lower place. When we cling to God he actually lifts us up and returns us not to our former level, but to a new and higher level.

We can actually see this referenced in the Amidah. In the second beracha which is about redemption, we have the phrase מקיים אמונתו לישני עפר - he upholds his emunah to those who sleep in the dust. This, the Notzer Hesed (if I recall correctly) says, is talking about the fallen sparks of holiness, the fallen neshamoth, the fallen souls. As we've said before, when we fall to these low places, it is a mission God has sent us on to retrieve these fallen souls. How do we retrieve them? By serving God with what is available to us on these lowered levels. By reconnecting to God through our faith that God will redeem us, we are revived and re-elevated, as we said above. If we look more closely at the phrase from the Amidah, we can reread it like so: Who raises up his emunah, for the sake of those who sleep in the dust. (ie. the fallen souls) God raises us up again out of these lows in order to raise up those sparks that were lost in the dust.

Coincidentally? The next sentence of the mishnah in Avot 1:4 is: והוי מתאבק בעפר רגליהם - strive in the dust of their feet. Be involved in raising up the fallen souls.

Essentially, Make the Shechinah, the revellation of God, whatever that revellation currently is, your dwelling place, and struggle there to restore the fallen souls you find along the way.


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