Some people might find it surprising that the sages discussed certain “best practices” for getting dressed. For instance, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, an abridged compendium of the laws enumerated in the full Code of Jewish Law, states: “You should be careful not to put on two articles of clothing at one time, this causes forgetfulness.” (For instance, finish buttoning your shirt before putting on your pants lest you get distracted and leave the house dishevelled.)

Of these rules for dressing, perhaps the best-known is the instruction on how to put on one’s shoes. In fact, quite a few lines of the Talmud Shabbat 61a are dedicated to this subject:

For Rabbi Johanan said: Like tefillin (phylactaries), so are shoes: Just as tefillin [are donned] on the left [hand], so are shoes [put on] the left [foot first]. An objection is raised: When one puts on his shoes, he must put on the right first and then the left.–Said Rabbi Joseph:…[but] Rabbi Johanan said the reverse, he who acts in either way acts [well]. …Rabbi Nahman ben Isaac said: A God-fearing person satisfies both views. And who is that? Mar, the son of Rabina. What did he do? He put on the right foot [sandal] but did not tie it. Then he put on the left, tied it, and then tied the right [sandal].

Our Rabbis taught: When one puts on shoes, he must put on the right first and then the left; when he removes [them], he must remove the left [first] and then the right.

It is generally understood that this rule gives honor to a person’s stronger side (and therefore lefties do the opposite). Another perspective, however, might be that paying attention to small details keeps us focused on paying attention to the Divinity in the world.

It also is intended to teach sensitivity to the limbs of our bodies, not to favor one foot over the other. How much more sensitive must we be in our relations with other human beings, to be careful not to unfairly  favor one person over another.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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