One of the well-known prohibitions of Yom Kippur is that one should refrain from wearing leather shoes. At first glance, one would assume that the simple reason for this is to cause us some extra discomfort. However, why are only leather shoes prohibited if most of us have non-leather shoes that are more comfortable? Rama (Orach Chayim 223:6) quotes a Halachah that explains the ban on leather shoes. He writes that normally when one purchases a new article of clothing, including shoes, others should bless him, “Tevaleh VeTitchadeish,” “May you wear out this garment and buy a new one.” According to some, however, if one buys new leather shoes, others should not express the hope that he or she buys new leather shoes because there is an element of sadness involved in such a purchase, since an animal is killed in order to produce these shoes (even though animals have been given for the purpose of man’s use, it would be cruel to express hope for the slaughtering of an animal for the sake of covering our feet; Rama himself disagrees with this reasoning).
On Yom Kippur, mankind stands before Hashem, hoping that He will judge us favorably and mercifully. A famous saying states, “If one shows compassion to others, Hashem will show compassion to him.” On Yom Kippur, when we are desperate for that compassion, we “hide” any traces of cruelty, and we do not wear leather shoes, hoping that Hashem will look at us with compassion and grant us a good and healthy new year. Being kind to animals – and, even more so, to human beings – is exactly what Hashem wants us to do. The famous quote “Derech Eretz Kademah LaTorah” teaches us that Hashem values our being kind to our fellow man over our learning the Torah all day.
When the first Beit HaMikdash was destroyed because Bnei Yisrael were violating Mitzvot Bein Adam LaMakom, we were in Galut for 70 years. However, when the second Beit HaMikdash was destroyed, this time because of people’s disrespecting their fellow man, the Galut period has lasted to the present day! If we want to be judged in a positive way, we must watch our actions, not only toward Hashem but, even more so, toward every human being we meet. May everyone have a meaningful Yom Kippur and be judged favorably because of the great respect given to our fellow man, and may we be in Eretz Yisrael next year with our Beit HaMikdash returned through our Mitzvot Bein Adam LaChaveiro.