Which Hand First?
Debbie and I were eating in an Indian restaurant and overheard an Indian man explain to his American friend that, “We eat with our right hand, because we use the left hand to clean ourselves after using the bathroom.”
The Halacha is similar in practical terms, but philosophically very different: We use our left hand to clean ourselves because we honor the right hand that is used to fulfill the Mitzvah of Tefillin; we use the right hand to wrap the Tefillin which is the Mitzvah. The left hand that wears the Tefillin is not as honored as the hand which fulfills the Mitzvah.
Our Indian friend begins with the hand he uses to clean. We begin with the hand we use to fulfill a Mitzvah. Our Indian friend avoids something unsanitary. We honor that which is holy.
Tzniut, Personal Dignity, is a major idea in the portion. Some people use the Indian approach, mainly they apply the laws of Tzniut as avoiding that which is not holy. Others approach Tzniut by focusing on honoring that which is holy. There is the Indian approach and the Halachic perspective. With which hand do we begin?
Some people approach Shabbat by focusing on the negative commandments, others begin with the positive and use the negative as a way to protect what they accomplish through the positive Mitzvot; the holiness of the Shabbat candles, the power of Kiddush, the spirit of the Shabbat meals, the special prayers and songs. The Indian and the Halachic approaches. With which hand do we begin?
Some people admirably pay careful attention to not speaking destructive words, the vocabulary of evil. They avoid the hand that they use to clean. Others focus on using their mouths for holiness, for prayer, Torah learning, kind words, constructive speech, and honor their mouths by avoiding the negative. They honor the hand used to perform a Mitzvah. There is the Indian approach and the Halachic perspective. With which hand do we begin?
The experience in the restaurant has enhanced mu understanding of why we are so careful in using our right hand first, why we insist on holding the Shel Rosh, the Tefillin of the Head, in our right hand as we place them in their proper space, why we are careful to hold the Kiddush cup in our right hand, why we put our right shoe on before the left. Does it really matter? Yes, if we understand the difference between the Indian approach and the Halachic lesson of “Which hand first?”
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