What is the “right” way to perform mitzvos?
Parshas Emor lists the qualifications and regulations necessary for a kohen to serve in the Beis HaMikdash. One requirement is that a kohen must perform the avodah, the Temple service, with his right hand (Z’vachim 24a-b). This preference may not seem special, as we are familiar with the general concept of emphasizing the right side as we perform mitzvos. Even outside the context of the Beis HaMikdash, Jewish people of all tribes are supposed to use their right hands when saying Sh’ma (Orach Chayim 61:5), reciting Kiddush (ibid. 183:4), and holding food while making a blessing (ibid. 206:4), among many other examples.
However, Rav Hershel Schachter shlita suggested that perhaps the very reason that we generally insist on performing mitzvos with the right side is specifically because that is the way the kohanim would carry out the Temple service. The connection between these two “rights” demonstrates that our mitzvos, too, are a form of daily service. Our avodas Hashem in shul, at home, or on the streets parallels the avodas HaMikdash, because they share a common goal: developing and maintaining a close relationship with our Creator – wherever we may be.
And it goes further than formal religious rituals. Even when performing non-spiritual, mundane activities, we are taught to prioritize the right side. For example, when getting dressed, one is supposed to put on the right shoe first (Orach Chayim 2:4). The same is true when donning other articles of clothing, as well as when washing one’s body, or applying lotion (Mishnah B’rurah, ad loc.). What is the significance of having a preferred way to complete the most trivial parts of our day?
Rav Schachter explained that these every-day, right-side movements are designed to help us recognize that every moment of our day presents an opportunity for avodas Hashem. Just as the kohen serves with his right side, and the mitzvah-performer acts with the right side, a Jewish person does everything with the right side as a reminder that he or she is never “off the clock.” Whether we are engaged in a mitzvah, preparing to take a sip of water, or simply getting dressed, we are always in the presence of Hashem, and therefore must perform our service like kohanim in the Mikdash.
With a simple shift in perspective, we have the special privilege to elevate even the mundane parts of our day by performing them the “right” way.