The practice of the pious (minhag ĥasidim) is to begin with the right side in all matters, because the Torah attributes more importance to one’s right side (as in the ritual of sprinkling the blood of a leper’s guilt offering onto his right thumb and big toe). According to Kabbala, right signifies lovingkindness (ĥesed), and left signifies judgment (din). By favoring the right, we help ĥesed overcome din. Thus, the scrupulously pious eat with their right hands, wash and anoint the right before the left, and put on the right sleeve, pant leg, and sock before the left. When bathing, they wash the head first, and then wash the right arm before the left arm and the right leg before the left leg. When getting undressed, they first remove the article from the left side. 1
Concerning shoes, the law is more complex. On one hand, one should begin with the right side. On the other hand, we learn from the mitzva to tie tefillin on one’s left arm, that for all matters involving tying one is to start with the left side. Therefore, one first puts on her shoes, right before left, without tying them, and when tying the laces, she starts with the left and then ties the right (Shabbat 61a; SA 2:4). 2
One who is left-handed and left-footed begins with the right when she puts her shoes an as well as when she ties them. Since lefties tie tefillin on their right arms, the right takes precedence for tying as well. 3
The purpose of these practices is to ensure that everything we do, even a routine act like putting on shoes, is done mindfully and meticulously. After all, everyone puts on shoes every day, and if so, why shouldn’t she do it in the most optimal way? Certainly, the order is not a sine qua non; one who puts her shoes on out of order need not take them off to put them on again in the appropriate order.
Through these halakhot, the Sages teach us to attribute value to every act we perform. This allows us to grasp all the details of the actions that make up our lives more deeply.
- The order of precedence for washing and anointing is detailed in Shabbat 61a. The order for dressing is detailed in MA and Kaf Ha-ĥayim 2:7, in the name of Sha’ar Ha-kavanot, as well as SAH 2:4 and Kitzur SA 3:4. ↩
- Halikhot Beitah 1 n. 14, expresses uncertainty about whether women, who do not put on tefillin, need to ascribe importance to the left side when tying. In his Sha’ashu’ei Zvi §3, R. Zvi Pesaĥ Frank writes that a woman may tie whichever side she prefers first. Even so, it seems that it is better that women also tie the left before the right, since the precedent from tefillin teaches that left precedes right in all matters of tying.
- MB 2:6, based on Bekhor Shor (and see Minĥat Yitzĥak 10:1) . This implies, therefore, that concerning putting on other clothing, even a lefty who takes on pious practices should start with her right side, just as blood would be sprinkled on a lefty’s right thumb (based on the opinion of most poskim; see Encyclopedia Talmudit, vol. 1, s.v. “iter”). However, regarding eating, we obviously do not trouble a lefty to eat with his right hand. Regarding the recitation of a berakha, it is the opinion of MB 206:18 (based on several Aĥaronim) that a lefty should hold the object on which he is reciting a berakha in his left hand. The kabbalists maintain that he should hold it in his right hand (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 206:30). ↩