A Yiddish expression that translates literally as “I have it in my left earlock,” and figuratively as “I don’t give a damn,” is not one known to most American Jews. That may be because the custom of growing long sidecurls (pe’ot; singular pe’ah) has been relegated to Hasidim. The origins of the phrase, however, may lie not with hairstyles but with the misinterpretation of a kabbalistic phrase. Philologos explains:
The terms pe’ah smolit and pe’ah yemanit, “left side” and “right side” . . . designate in kabbalistic literature the two fundamental aspects of Creation, God’s rigor and God’s mercy. The “left side” represents the realm of law, justice, and retribution, the “right side” that of love, compassion, and forgiveness. God is equally composed of both, but human souls have their roots in one or the other. . . . Ultimately, the “left side” of Creation, while an intrinsic part of it, is less sublime, as far as the kabbalists were concerned, than the “right side.” Although both are needed to keep the cosmos in balance, love is a higher attribute than law.