By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
While a gentile may wake up in the morning and immediately eat to his heart’s content and get dressed however he wants, we have halachos that guide our morning. Although the halachos of dressing are not difficult, some may find it hard do anything right while groggy-eyed. The basic rule of thumb is that we give preference to the right side over the left side. Hence, we put on the right sock first. We should insert our hand into the right sleeve first.
It therefore follows that we should put on the right shoe before the left shoe. Yet the Gemara records that Rebbe Yochanan put on his left shoe first. His stated reason is that shoes follow tefillin. Since tefillin is usually put on the left arm, we give preference to the left shoe and put it on first. The connection between tefillin and shoes is not readily apparent.
The Gemara challenges Rebbe Yochanan with a bereisa that states clearly that the right shoe should be put on first. The Gemara concludes that Mar the son of Ravna fulfilled both the opinion of Rebbe Yochanan and that of the bereisa. He accomplished this by putting on his right shoe first but tying his left shoe first.
The Riva explains that Rebbe Yochanan’s comparison between shoes and tefillin is really in regard to tying. Since tefillin straps are tied on the left arm, we give preference to the left side in regard to tying. (A lefty, though, should tie his right shoe first. Women, on the other hand, tie their left shoe first even though they don’t wear tefillin.) This is how Mar the son of Ravna fulfilled both opinions. Since Rebbe Yochanan was mainly concerned with the left shoe being tied first, Mar put on the right shoe first but tied the left one first. Tosfos concludes that if one wears loafers there is no need to give any preference to the left side.
Rebbe Akiva Eiger, quoting the Eimek HaMelech, explains that there is a deeper connection between shoes and tefillin than the superficial fact that they are both tied. The Gemara in Chullin tells us that K’lal Yisrael merited the mitzvah of tefillin as a reward for Avraham Avinu’s refusal to partake of the spoils of Sedom. Why was that reward appropriate? In his rejection, Avraham Avinu declared that he would not take “from a thread to a shoe strap.” Hashem therefore rewarded his descendants with the mitzvah of wearing tefillin straps. This explains why the halachah of tying the left side first is limited to shoes. For other garments that have left and right strings that need to be tied, the usual procedure of giving preference to the right should be followed. (It should be noted that the Shulchan Aruch HaRav disagrees with the Mishnah Berurah on this point and says regarding tying that preference is always given to the left.)
It should therefore follow that if one is wearing boots with zippers, he should put on and zip the right one first. Zippers are not in any way related to shoe straps. One could argue that Velcro straps are similar to laces, and the left one should be closed first. The Leket Kemach HeChadash suggests that it’s conceivable that regarding all footwear the left one should be closed first, regardless of the mechanism.
Rav Avraham Liss was learning this topic with his long-time chavrusa. His chavrusa asked him why there are halachos even for trivial things like putting on shoes. The next time Rabbi Liss met his rebbi, HaRav Avrohom Pam, zt’l, he asked him the question. Rav Pam related the following anecdote: There was a wayward Jew who slowly left the path of Yiddishkeit. He was engaged to be married to a nochriyah. On the day of his wedding, he woke up and got dressed. He was tying his shoes when it dawned on him that he had just put on his right one first. Now he was tying his left shoe first. The realization that Yiddishkeit was so deeply engrained in his very nature hit him with a jolt. Remorse slowly built up for the decisions he had made and he called off the wedding. He returned to Yiddishkeit to become once again an upright member of K’lal Yisrael. These seemingly insignificant acts of halachah that we follow in the morning set the tone for the rest of our day and possibly for the rest of our lives.
The Meiri comments that favoring the right side is supposed to serve as a constant reminder to always follow the right and proper path.
My rav, Rav Binyomin Forst, shlit’a, once exhorted those assembled to be ever diligent to grab precious extra moments for Torah study. He mentioned that the Novominsker Rebbe used to have a special seder in learning one masechta while his wife was shopping. Another person he singled out for honorable mention was our local Inwood shoemaker, Yehuda Uriel. Yehuda emigrated from Samarkand, Uzbekistan, in 1993. His grandfather was a shoemaker there. His father followed in his father’s footsteps and runs a shoe-repair shop in downtown Manhattan. When the opportunity arose to operate a shoe-repair store on Doughty Boulevard that serves a significant Jewish clientele, he jumped at the offer.
What earned Yehuda the honorable mention? When my rav entered the store he witnessed Yehuda utilizing his downtime in the store to learn. When he’s not fixing shoes, watches, or jewelry, he dedicates himself to Torah. Due to popular demand, he now offers a unique service in the Five Towns area: black-hat cleaning. He now services people from their hat to their toes. v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and offers a program to help children with ADD increase focus and concentration. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.