A Prerequisite For Leadership
The first encounter Moshe will have directly with Hashem is at the burning bush. It is there that Hashem will give over his first of many instructions to Moshe. Hashem commands Moshe to not come close and to take off his shoes since the place he is standing on is holy.
וַיֹּאמֶר, אַל-תִּקְרַב הֲלֹם; שַׁל-נְעָלֶיךָ, מֵעַל רַגְלֶיךָ--כִּי הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עוֹמֵד עָלָיו, אַדְמַת-קֹדֶשׁ הוּא.
The straightforward explanation is that since the place upon which Moshe is standing is holy, out of respect, Moshe needs to take off his shoes.
As Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains: A person who takes off one's shoes in a holy place demonstrates that they are devoting themselves to the holiness of that place.
We see this with birkat Kohanim. The Kohen removes his shoes to completely devote himself to the holiness of the floor of the Azarah. The more a person attaches himself to a holy place, the more he will be able to feel its holiness.
Yet, perhaps this moment in time conveys to us a deeper message - that of the leadership role Moshe is about to acquire. There is great significance in the removal of Moshe's shoes:
When an individual wears shoes, one will feel mostly the larger stones and obstacles on the ground. Shoes allow the shoe-wearer to become removed and disconnected from the smaller pebbles on the road. However, a barefoot traveler feels every minute depression or elevation on the ground one walks on.
Therefore, Hashem instructs Moshe that before assuming any role or direct connection with Hashem, he needs to remove his shoes so that he can feel every nook, every bump along the way. This is a critical message for leadership. A leader must consider not only the larger general problems. A leader serves his or her community by being cognizant towards the pain, the needs and the struggles of each member under one's leadership. A leader must remember that he or she is the representative of a whole that is the sum of many parts. Hashem instructs Moshe to identify, as much as he will be able to, the struggle and plight of each and every member of Bnei Yisrael.
Moshe removes his shoes, and in doing so, will be able to sense as clearly as possible the needs, the concerns and the personal struggles of his people. Moshe cannot become a leader who shuts himself out to the smaller issues and concentrate his energies only upon the more general problems. He must feel the pain of every single commoner under his rule. With this new role he will take on, Moshe bears the responsibility to identify as much as possible with the plight of each and every Jew.
With the inauguration of a new leader for the United States of America upon us, we offer the hope and prayer, that every individual will be appreciated and respected by this new world leader. May Hashem instill within all our leadership the sensitivity and perception to care for and internalize the requests, desires and requirements of each and every individual and see him or her as a significant member with infinite value. May these leaders be worthy of the service they provide for their nations and individual community and serve as a role model for each of us to do the same.