Tuesday, April 30, 2013

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It’s a Custom

by Reb Gutman Locks on Mystical Paths

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One of my Shabbos guests asked, “What does it mean, “It’s a minhag? (tradition/custom) I hear it all the time. And if it is just a custom, why should I follow it?”

     I explained that there can be customs of a particular school, or of certain families, or they can be for the Sephardim or the Ashkenazim. You have to ask whose custom is it.

     Some customs have fallen away, while some are still very strict. But even though customs do not carry the authority of halacha (Jewish law), still, they have come about for a reason, and you should try to find out why.

     There is an interesting custom to take off our left shoe first, and to put on our right shoe first. This reminds us that we should be quick to rid ourselves of our left side, and slow to remove our right. Be quick to take on the right, and slow to take on the left. In these cases “left” stands for our weaker, “evil” side, and “right” stands for our correct, or holy side.

     When we move toward a mitzvah we begin with our right side to show its importance. When we back away from a mitzvah we back away with our left side first to show our reluctance. When we take three steps forward to daven (pray) we begin with our right foot. When we finish davening, we back away with our left foot first. We put on our tefillin with our right hand, and we take them off with our left.

     So it is very interesting to read that the Vilna Gaon taught that on the evening of the 9th of Av (a fast day) we should take off our right shoe first. His reason must have been that on the fast day it is forbidden to wear leather shoes, so taking off our leather shoes at that time is fulfilling a mitzvah, therefore we should remove our right shoe first.

     But then we have to ask, what shoe should I remove first when entering the mikvah (emersion in a pool of water), or when a kohen takes off his shoes to bless the congregation? The custom in these cases is still to take off the left shoe first. Why?

     On the 9th of Av (and on Yom Kippur) leather shoes are forbidden, so removing them at those times fulfills a mitzvah. When we take off our shoes to enter a mikvah, or when a kohen is about to bless the congregation, we are merely preparing to do a mitzvah. It’s not the mitzvah itself.

     When you love something you take it to you with your strongest hand. After all, you really want it. When you give charity, if you really want to give, give it with your right hand. This increases the value of the mitzvah, both in your eyes, and in the eyes of the person receiving it.

2 comments:

Josh said...

I think I've heard many times that a local custom is indeed at the level of halacha. For example, it is a 'custom' during yizkor for non-orphans to leave the prayer hall and return afterwards (assumingly a few minutes). At one community I davened with, they decided that the local custom is that non-orphans do not leave. In this case, those peopel who do leave might in fact be rebelling against the local 'halacha'.

LondonMale said...

Very interesting, thank you.

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