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Thought for the Day: Giving Precedence to the Right

In general, halacha gives precedence to the right (not correct, but as opposed to left) side.  When washing -- whether first thing in the morning, after using the wash room, or for a bread meal -- the right hand is washed first.  When backing up from Shmoneh Esrei, we bow to our left which is to the right of the sh'china.  When putting on shoes we put on the right first.  Two notable exceptions: tying the left shoe (for men) and (usually) removing the left shoe both take precedence over the right.

Men tie their left shoe first because of t'filin.  The pasuk tells us, "ukshartam al yadecha"/tie them onto your bicep (Chazal tell us the "al yadecha" here means "on your bicep").  M'sora also tells us that from the spelling we see that it means your weak/left side.  Note than in halacha, "left" means "weak", except when otherwise specified.  So a left handed man put his t'filin on the arm that for everyone else is the right, but for him is his left.

Since women don't wear t'filin, there is some discussion about whether they should tie there left of right shoe first.  On the one hand (yes; every pun intended), the drash may have just used t'filin because it was there, or it could mean that only those that wear t'filin should give precedence to their left when tying.  I believe my daughters (who both went to seminary and put shoes on women way more than I do) told me that women tie their right shoe first.

As far as taking off the left shoe first, that is actually giving precedence to the right by leaving the right foot enshoed longer.  However, would there be a mitzvah to remove one's shoes, then the right would again take precedence.  Presumably, Moshe Rabeinu took of his right sandal first when HaShem told him to remove his shoes at the burning bush.  We also have a time when we are required to remove our shoes -- Yom Kippur and Tisha b'Av.  At first blush, though, since the removal of shoes is for suffering, there is not kavod to be given and so the left would still come off first.

Halichos Shlomo, though, paskens that a woman should remove her right shoe first after lighting candles for Yom Kippur.  (Men should also remove their right shoe first for Yom Kippur if it is close to acceptance of Yom Kippur; I just happened to see the candle lighting p'sak this morning.)  He gives an interesting reason from Rav Kook, ztz"l.  On Yom Kippur, in addition to the aspect of suffering, there is also an aspect of preparing oneself to stand before the Creator of the World and plead for mercy.  That requires one to strip away all arrogance and present oneself in honest humility.  Removing one's shoes helps with that attitude adjustment.

The act of removing one's shoes is thus transformed from simply fulfilling a technical obligation into a positive act of contrition in preparation for the awesome meeting that is about to take place.  It is more than worth deferring to the right for such glorious act.

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