Intentionality Starts with Your Pants | Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Notes

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(This piece is a part of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Notes series.)

Later Siman/Chapter 3

We left off with a look at how to dress and to not seek after the arrogance of others. We continue with how to get dressed in the first place.

While this sounds like something your mother taught you, the reasoning behind this particular method of getting dressed is the infusion of intentionality.

“Since we find that the Torah gives deference to the right hand: in regard to service in the Temple [The priest used his right hand when he performed the necessary sacrificial rituals such as the sprinkling of the blood.] and in regard to the thumb and big toe referred to in the milu’im [When Aaron and his sons were consecrated, blood was applied to their right thumbs and big toes.] and purification of the metzora and in the mitzvah of chalitzah; [See Deuteronomy 25:5–10; Maseches Yevamos 104a.] therefore in dressing and in other activities you should begin with the right [hand or foot] as opposed to the left [hand or foot.]

Many of us are familiar with the idea of “waking up on the wrong side of the bed.” Fewer of us are familiar with starting our day with the right sleeve, pant leg, or shoe. This is essentially what this passage is instructing.

You may be saying, “Ken — yeah, sure, the priests in the Temple valued the right over the left. They did a lot of things in certain ways — everything from wearing turbans to dressing in linen. Does this mean that we are to do these things as well?”

You’re missing the point, my hypothetical friend. The point is that there is a point. Still confused? Yeah, I’m beginning to confuse myself, but let me explain.

For most of our day, our activities are unconscious. According to the “Passive Frame Theory” as discussed in a study by psychologist Ezequiel Morsella, only pressing decisions are served up to the forefront of our consciousness. While this may make it seem like we’re just zombies going through life, this is actually an incredibly efficient use of mental bandwidth. Most repetitive actions we do daily are relatively inconsequential. Which hand towel you use in the morning will not alter the course of history…unless your wife specifically told you not to use the nice towels to clean the toilet. I’m sorry, honey.

The downside of this mental autopilot is that it takes us out of thoroughly savoring the present. When our mind is running in default mode, choosing positive emotions over neutral or even negative ones can prove challenging because we’re mentally checked out.

What if we could mentally check in more often throughout the day? Well, we can…starting with our pants.

When was the last time you ran a cost-benefit assessment of putting your right pant leg on first before your left? You probably never have. It seems inconsequential, right? What if you could tie a benefit to putting on your right pant leg over your left? That’s what the text is doing in this instruction.

Though the benefit provided in the text is emulating the priest in the Temple, the goal is to channel that level of intentionality into your life. Everything about the Temple service was meticulously intentional. This level of intentionality in our actions is sorely lacking in our daily lives. What if we could use our pants, our shirts, or our shoes to infuse intentional positivity into our lives? This is what is possible by following the instructions in this text.

Something to try tomorrow, when you get dressed:

  • Put your right pant leg on first to symbolize walking in the right direction.
  • Put your right arm through your shirt sleeve first to symbolize making right actions.
  • Put your right shoe on first to symbolize walking out into the world with the right positive mentality.

At the end of the day:

  • Get undressed first with your left shoe, your left shirt sleeve, and your left pant leg first to symbolize leaving the day where it is — not dragging the day’s events with you as you go to sleep. Leave them on that day and move on.

Going forward, see if you can remember to get dressed in this way and to remember the intentionality that this seemingly inconsequential behavior symbolizes.

Shavua Tov (have a good week).

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