How should you put on your shoes?

Dear Families, 

Thanksgiving is over (we must keep our gratitude going year-round!) and Hanukkah is late this year although we should get ready. That means there is time to talk about something unrelated to holidays; as we know, there are no Jewish holidays in the month of Cheshvan except for Shabbat. So, let me share a little Talmudic knowledge that I Googled! One of our seniors at the J asked me if there is a Jewish way to put on and tie shoes. I told her that the only thing I remember is that my grandfather (who I don’t think was a Talmudic scholar) made me put on my shoes and socks in a specific order. Googling, on the advice of my supervisor, brought surprising news. THERE IS A LAW!

Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir wrote the following:

The Shulchan Arukh states that we should don our right shoe first, and then the left; but tying shoes is in the opposite order — first left, then right (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 2:4). The source for this law is in the gemara (Shabbat 61a). Rebbe Yochanan states that the left shoe should be put on first, since shoes are likened to tefillin which are tied on the left arm. Yet there is a baraita which states that the right shoe has precedence. The gemara concludes that we can fulfill both views by putting on the right first, according to the baraita, but respecting Rebbe Yochanan’s view by tying the left first. The idea is that the likeness of shoes to tefillin is primarily in the aspect of tying; therefore, even according to Rebbe Yochanan the main importance is to tie the left first. (See Tosafot.)

Fascinating, but why? Rabbi Meir concludes: We have explained in many columns that wearing shoes represents our special human status; they separate and protect us from the lowly ground, and are typically made of leather showing that we are elevated above the beasts. Thus when we put on our shoes showing strength and protection, we give precedence to the right. But when we tie, showing restraint, we give precedence to the left.

We know that many of our 613 commandments do not have explanations — we are simply commanded to do them. However, it seems to be part of our nature (for some more than others) to have reasons for what we are supposed to do. Sometimes the reason we choose to apply is not the most important reason. For example, driving the speed limit is a rule many of us follow only because we don’t want to get a ticket (which according to Kohlberg’s steps of moral development is really the lowest — don’t do something if it will get you in trouble!). However, the bigger reason for driving the speed limit is to care for all in our community by keeping everyone safe.

Now as to the question about wearing and tying shoes, Rabbi Meir’s reason of showing strength, protection and restraint definitely makes you stop and think. However, the most important lesson of this daily ritual may be simply to make us think and remind us of who we are and even how lucky we are to have shoes! And we are right back to gratitude!

Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.

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