By Rabbi Aryel Nachman ben Chaim – 28 Sivan 5775
Why is it we Jews do what we do? Is it just tradition? Is it habit? Is it superstition (G-d forbid!). Just as the Torah has many levels, so to do the mitzvot have many levels. Let us just dip our hand in the waters of mitzvot and examine a few of these and try to derive the deeper meaning.
Many, including some of our own people, view these things as nothing more than superstition that should be cast aside. They do not see the deeper meaning inherent in the act. This is very unfortunate for them.
First, let us understand right versus left at its simplest level.
The right hand represents mercy. It also represents righteousness. It also represents strength. The left hand represents judgment. It also represents weakness.
Hence we have the Talmudic injunction One should push away with the left hand and draw close with the right hand”
In other words: One should push away with the left (push away with the weak hand an errant child, the sinner, etc.) and draw close with the right (draw close with strength and mercy the one who performs teshuvah, requests forgiveness, comes to study and learn, etc.).
When a Jew walks in or out the door, he kisses the mezuzah and steps out with the right foot first. Why? We step out or into a dwelling with the right foot first; therefore, when we enter into a place, or when we enter out into the world, we enter it in Righteousness, Strength and Mercy. We kiss the mezuzah with the right hand to remind us of how we are to enter our home, another place or the world.
We kiss the mezuzah with the right hand, again to remind us of righteousness, strength and mercy. But by touching the mezuzah with the right hand, we strengthen ourselves so that we always remember that our behavior in this world is to be righteous, strong and merciful.
When we wrap the tefillah shel yad, we wrap it on the left hand (arm) if we are right handed, or the right arm if we are left handed.
For the right handed person this is to remind us of our weaknesses. That we must restrain our yetzer hara and that we must restrain our impulse to judge others. We are also wrapping the weak arm to strengthen it so that we strengthen our yetzer hatov and perform all tasks in righteousness, strength and mercy.
For the left handed person who wraps the right arm, we are strengthening our weak arm, but, as we wrap we must remember that we are also symbolically wrapping the left arm for the same reasons the righthanded person wraps the left arm.
When we wash our hands, we wash the right one first. Since the right hand is the stronger we are washing away the impulses that lead us to have misused that strength and acted unrighteously and unmercifully. Again, for the left handed person they must keep this symbolism in mind when washing.
As you know, we do not fold our hands together in prayer like the nations do. When we put our hand together during prayer we lay the right hand overtop of the left hand. Again, this is to remind us and to symbolize that we are restraining the left hand of judgment with the right hand of mercy.
Every mitzvah that we perform we are obligated to look for the deeper meaning; to search it out and find for ourselves the hidden mitzvot within the mitzvah.
I hope you will take this to heart and view the mitzvot with a sense of awe and wonder.