Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Does God Really Care About How I Tie My Shoes?

Yes, actually.  There is a halacha – a statement in the code of Jewish law (Shulchan Aruch 2:4) – relating to the order in which a person puts on his/her shoes.  First the right, then the left.  The questions is: does God *really* care about the order in which I am putting on my shoes?  And for that matter, does God *really* care about anything else I do throughout the day?  And what does this have to do with Jewish identity anyways?

The truth is that God does care about the order in which we put on our shoes.  Not because we “help” God or “hurt” God based on the extent to which we incorporate Jewish law into our lives, but rather for a much deeper, meaningful reason.  God cares because God wants us to get the most out of life!  Hashem is often referred to as our Father in Heaven who loves us, and just like every parent wants the best for their children, so too does Hashem want the best for us.  Just like a parent will impart to a child important habits which create a healthy lifestyle, so too Hashem through the Torah teaches us ways to live an unbelievably fulfilling life.  Somehow, the order in which we tie our shoes must, by definition, teach us something unbelievably important about getting the most out of life.  The question is: what?

One of the secrets to a meaningful life is to be aware at every moment – to think about our purpose – why are we doing what we are doing?  What is it all for?  Humans have an uncanny ability to lose focus on what is really important in life and get caught up in the menial and trivial.  How many times have relationships ended over something petty?  How many times have you opened an SMS while in the middle of a conversation with somebody?  Judaism places immense importance on staying focused and avoiding autopilot.  That is why we place a mezuzah on the doorposts of our homes – to remind us to think about why we are entering a room – what is the purpose in my being here? 
This is also the wisdom behind why halacha tells us to tie our right shoe before the left.  On a simple level, it comes to remind us to pay attention to the seemingly menial aspects of life; if we are supposed to avoid auto-pilot when tying our shoes, all-the-more-so when it comes to every other aspect of life.  On a deeper level, kabbalah – Jewish mysticism – teaches that the right side represents the attribute of gentle lovingkindness, whereas the left side represents strict, unwavering justice.  Jewish law is teaching us to constantly pay attention to our various character traits – there is a time for lovingkindness, and there is a time to be unwavering.  

As humans who have a uncanny ability to lose sight of the big picture of life, and to so easily slip into autopilot mode, does it not make sense to scatter reminders throughout our lives to recharge our focus?  What if anything does this have to do with Jewish identity?
This post was written by Rabbi Daniel Wolnerman, he can be reached at rabbidw@ufhillel.org 

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