Tag Archives: Netilat Yadayim

Netilat Yadayim with Asher Yatzar


Netiliat Yadayim with Asher Yatzer
The Ritual Hand Washing after using the Toilet

“Blessed are You Hashem our G-d, |

King of the Universe, |

who has sanctified us |

and has commanded us |

concerning the hand-washing.” |

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ

מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם,

אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ

בְּמִצְוֹתָיו,

וְצִוָנוּ עַל נְטִילַת יָדָים:

Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haOlam, asher kadishanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu al netilat yadayim.”

Instructions: One should take a cup and fill it with water, lift it with the right hand, pass it to their left hand and pour the water over the right hand up to the wrist. The cup should then be passed from the left hand and over to the right hand, and poured over the left. One should then continue to wash the hands twice more, passing the cup back and forth so that one has rinsed each hand three times, in an alternating fashion. One should then recite the blessings.

During our study concerning to the ritual Morning Washing we learned that the reasons why we wash immediately upon arising is to purify ourselves of uncleanliness that we might have come in contact with during the night; specifically from touching or scratching our bodies or orifices as we slept. Besides our concern about spreading this to our other body parts, we are taught by our sages that we should begin our service before G-d with pure intentions. However, it was noted that we do not say the blessing of Netilat Yadayim – the blessing for hand washing – during this first washing. This is because we were not going to engage in any spiritual activities immediately, instead we are going to take care of our physical needs. We reserve the blessing of Netilat Yadayim – the blessing for washing - until after we have completed these necessities and are fully dressed, pairing it with this blessing of Asher Yatzar commonly known as “the bathroom blessing” by many.

These are a couple of the most common blessings in Judaism, however their combination during our morning avodah is a unique occurrence. People often feel confused over when one should say either one of these blessings. This is because most siddurim ambiguously place these two blessings among with the morning blessings, without any indication as to when it is appropriate for us to say either. Today we will discuss the halachot for these blessings in our morning ritual, and then explore their normative re-occurrence in our daily practice.

The Morning Washing with a Blessing

After Modeh Ani, the next two blessings we will encounter in our day will be Al Netilat Yadayim and Asher Yatzar. The Shulchan Aruch haRav of the Baal haTanya beautifully explains to us as follows:

“According to the law of the Gemara

(Berachot 60b)

it is not necessary to say the blessing

‘Asher Yatzar’ until one relieves himself.

In all places is it the universal custom

to recite each morning,

immediate after the blessing

Al Netilat Yadayim,’

the blessing ‘Asher Yatzar;’

as each day a man becomes

a newly-created being.

Therefore, it is appropriate to

express the blessing

everyday

‘Asher yatzar et ha-adam b’chochmah.’

(“You have made man in wisdom”)

If one wants to remove doubt

one should be careful to take care of his needs

right after

the morning washing.

After leaving the bathroom

one should wash ones hands once finished

[a second time] and bless ‘Asher Yatzar,’

and thereby fulfill his obligation to bless

‘Asher Yatzar’ with this,

even if he was obligated to bless

Asher Yatzar

because he has been made

a newly-created being,

so that one blessing

serves for both purposes.

It is a good practice for one to

say the blessing

Al Natilat Yadayim

after the second washing

so as to wash after exiting the bathroom

especially if one rose to use the latrine,

or else it would be forbidden to bless.”

אף על פי שמדינא דגמרא |

|

אין צריך לברך ברכת |

אשר יצראלא כשעשה צרכין, |

מכל מקום נהגו העולם |

לברך בכל שחרית |

תכף אחר ברכת |

על נטילת ידים” |

ברכת אשר יצר“, |

שבכל יום נעשה האדם |

בריה חדשה, |

לכן |

שיך לברך |

בכל יום ויום |

אשר יצר את האדם בחכמה” |

|

והרוצה להסתלק מהספק – |

יזהר לעשות צרכיו |

תכף אחר |

נטילת ידים שחרית, |

וכשיצא מבית הכסה |

יטל ידיו פעם שהית |

ויברך אשר יצר“, |

ויצא ידי חובתו בברכת |

אשר יצרזו, |

אף אם היה מחיב לברך |

אשר יצר” |

על מה שנעשה |

בריה חדשה, |

כי ברכה אחת עולה |

לכאן ולכאן. |

וטוב שלא |

יברך ברכת |

על נטילת ידים” |

עד לאחר נטילה שנית, |

שנוטל אחר יציאתו מבית הכסא |

ובפרט אם צריך לנקביו, |

שאז אסור לו לברך. |

The Baal haTanya, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi of Russia in the 18thCentury
Shulchan Aruch haRav, Orach Chaim: Mahadura Kama – 6:1

For the first washing of the day we primarily concerned ourselves with cleanliness. We are taught that upon awakening we should be careful to not touch any of our orifices with our unwashed hands for reasons of health and hygiene. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, siman 6) However, some of the first activities most people engage in once they get out of bed is to go to the toilet and wash-up in the bathroom.

If one slept at all at night one must wash upon awakening before going about using the facilities, though only a simple washing is required. We do not say a blessing the first time because we are not going to be immediately engaging in any mitzvot. Simply put, we wash the first time to be able to use the restroom and dress ourselves unsoiled.

However, the washing with a blessing that follows later on in our morning duties is not for reasons of cleanliness necessarily, but instead it is in preparation for engaging in prayer. Earlier in the Shulchan Aruch haRav it was expressed to us this way:

ואחר כך |

יבדק נקביו, |

שמא יצטרך לנקביו |

באמצע התפלה. |

אמרו חכמים: |

כל הרוצה לקבל עליו |

על מלכות שמים שלמה – |

יפנה ויטל ידיו, |

ואחר כך יקרא קריאת שמע |

ויתפלל. |

“And after [one is done dressing]

one should check

to see if he might have to go to the restroom

during the middle of prayer.

The sages say:

One who seeks to accepts upon himself

the whole yoke of heaven

should relieve himself and wash his hands

and after this recite the Kriyat Shema

and pray.”

Shulchan Aruch haRav, Orach Chaim: Mahadura Kama – 2:8

We should use the facilities after we dress because we are going to begin to pray, and we should not interrupt our devotion.

But we also check ourselves for another reason. Based on the Shulchan Aruch of Rabbi Yosef Karo, it is also understood that we should not delay using the facilities because we would be transgressing the Biblical commandment, “bal te’shak’tzu / do not make yourself loathsome.” (Leviticus 11:43) We are also careful to keep in mind that we are not allowed to say words of Torah or prayer in the presence of feces. We should clean ourselves up in order to be appropriate for prayer, learning and worship. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 3:24-25)

Naturally the question arises when we consider his instructions, where are we washing and blessing? Is it at the synagogue or is it at home? The Baal haTanya has us outside of the restroom in his description, naturally some assume this must be at home. The answer is more precisely present by the Maran – Rabbi Yosef Karo in the original Shulchan Aruch.

“There are those whose custom is to bless

Al Netilat Yadayim

and then go to the synagogue

and include it with the

rest of the order of the blessings.

But this is not the custom for us Sephardim.”

יש נוהגים לברך |

על נטילת ידים |

עד בואם לבית בכסת |

ומסדרים אותו עם |

שאר הברכות |

ובני ספרד לא נוהג כך: |

The Maran; Rabbi Yosef Karo, Tzfat, Israel in 1563

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 5:2

The Maran tells us that it is the custom of some to say all their blessings with the congregation at the synagogue; but that is not the custom of the Sephardic community, which he represents. What he doesn’t plainly say is that they instead say their morning blessings at home, so that they only need to say the communal prayers with the rest of the congregation.

In contrast the Ashekazi tradition is to say all the blessings as part of the service, often recited out loud by the shliach tzibur – the person leading the prayer service. This is often helpful for people who are less familiar with Hebrew and the prayers, one would be able to fulfill their obligation by responding “amein” upon hearing the leader recite them, thus partnering oneself in the prayers. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 46:2) The Ashkenazi practice of washing immediately before praying at the synagogue also seems to more closely resemble the ritual washing of the Holy Temple which inspired the rabbinically instituted ritual-washing. People washed at the Temple complex before they engaged in their prayers there, therefore its more logical to wash at shul. In-fact the only reason ritual was instituted in the first place was to serve as a preparation for saying the Shema and davening. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 4:23)

Then why do Sephardim not say these blessing with a congregation? The Rema (our Ashkenazi master who provides the halacha of Eastern-Europe in his glosses to the Shulchan Aruch), explains to us that the only time this does not apply is when one is going to learn Torah before he gets to the synagogue. We are not to engage in words of Torah without ritually washing and say the the Torah Blessings. If one is going to discuss or learn Torah at home, they must first wash and bless. It was also a well established custom for Sephardim to say slichot and Tikkun Chatzot, which are said prior to the morning services, most often at home. Sephardim follow the tradition of the Ari z”l, the Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzhak Luria (Shaar haKavanot, brought down by the Kaf haChaim 6:3), who prescribes that one say blessings during their morning activities when appropriate at home; to do this we must first wash and bless accordingly.

The Rema explains to us that we are only required to say the Birchot haShachar – the Morning Blessings - once, either way is acceptable be it at home or shul, as long as we do not needlessly repeat the blessings. We bless this way once a day, as we are only newly-created once each day. The Maran tells us:

ועל כל פנים |

לא יברך בפעמים |

ומי שמברכם בביתו |

לא יברך |

בבית הכנסת |

וכן מי שמברכו |

בבית הכנסת |

לא יברך בביתו |

(כל בו סימן ג‘). |

ומי שלומד |

קודם שיכנס לבית הכנסת או מתפלל |

קודם יברכם בביתו |

ולא יברך |

בבית הכנסת |

Either way

one should not say the blessings twice.

And one who says the blessings at home

does not say the blessings

at the synagogue

And also one who says the blessings

at the synagogue

does not say the blessings at home

(Kol Bo, siman 3)

And one who learns [Torah]

before he goes to the synagogue to pray

he first says the blessings at home

and does not say the blessings

at the synagogue.”

Glosses of the Rema, Rabbi Moshe Isserilis of Kraków, Poland

to the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 5:2 printed in 1578

We should not say the Birchot HaShachar more than once, likewise we only say Netilat Yadayim and Asher Yatzer together once during the day. Though we do wash for other reasons during the day, such as before eating a meal with bread or performing certain mitzvot. But we don’t wash with a blessing each time we go the restroom. We merely wash with water without a blessing and then say Asher Yatzer as our blessing of gratitude. The reason again is because we are not washing for any specific sacred act, just for general cleanliness. We should be decent when we bless so we do a simple washing. This is laid down for us by the Maran:

כל היום |

כשעושה צרכיו |

בין קטנים |

בין גדולים |

מברך אשר יצר |

ולא על נטילת ידים |

אף אם רוצה ללמוד |

או להתפלל מיד: |

“Any time during the day

one goes to restroom to relieve himself

be it to urinate

or be it to defecate

one says the blessing of ‘Asher Yatzar

and not ‘Netilat Yadayim

Even if one wants to learn [Torah]

or daven immediately.”

Maran

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 7:1

The Rema agrees. No matter how “dirty” our hands become we are not required to bless, merely to remove what is soiling them:

היו ידיו מלוכלכות ששפשף |

בהן אפילו הכי אינו |

מברך על נטילת ידים |

(סמג סימן כו מלות עשה) |

“If one has soiled his hands whipping,

even in this case one does not

say the blessing ‘Netilat Yadayim‘”

(The Semag, Rabbi Yitzhak ben Yosef of Corbel; Siman 26)

Rema to

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 7:1

Though the Baal haTanya seems to prefer that one the Birchot haShachar with the congregation according to the Ashkenazi custom that is native to his region (Shulchan Aruch haRav, Orach Chaim 6:1), he did look favorably upon those who do bless at home:

אבל יש נוהגים |

לברך |

על נטילת ידים” |

ואשר יצר” |

בביתם מיד אחר הנטילה. |

וכשכאים לבית הכנסת |

מברכים כל ברכות השחר, |

לבד מאותן ברכות |

שברכו בביתם |

שאין מברכים אותם פעם שניה. |

ומנהג זה יפה הוא, |

וראוי |

לנהג כן, |

שהרי כל המצות צריך לברך עליהן |

קדם לעשית, |

אלא שבנטילת ידים |

אי אפשר לברך |

קדם הנטילה, |

לכן נדחית הברכה |

עד לאחר הנטילה, |

אם כן כל מה דאפשר |

לקרב הברכה |

שתהא סמוכה להנטילה – |

צריך לקרב, |

ולא להפסיק בינתים: |

“However, there are those whose custom

is to say

Al Netilat Yadayim

and ‘Asher Yatzar

at home immediately after the washing.

When they come to the synagogue

they recite all the morning blessing,

except for the blessings

they already recited in their home,

which are not to be recited a second time.

This is a desirable custom,

and it is indeed an appropriate

to practice thusly.

For all of the mitzvot one must bless

before it is performed.

But since for the washing of the hands

one cannot recite a blessing

before he washes his hands,

the blessing is therefore postponed

until after the washing.

Accordingly,

the blessing should be recited

as close as possible to the washing -

being mindful so that it is immediate

and without any delay.”

The Baal haTanya, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi of Russia in the 18th Century

Shulchan Aruch haRav, Orach Chaim: Mahadura Kama 6:5

And this is the halacha by the Chassidim to this day, that one wash immediately before Shacharit – the morning prayer service – with a blessing. However, in actual practice it is more prevalent for one to wash with a blessing at home in order to learn, say slichot, Tehillim, Tikkun Chatzot or take on other personal forms of devotion (and in some cases, to eat breakfast; if ones minhag permits).

The Baal haTanya though again brings up an interesting reason for washing before praying at the synagogue, it is the general halachic principle that one say blessings immediately before engaging in something and not after. We discussed this last week when we considered the kindling of Shabbat candles, which is also a strange mitzvah in that most people bless after the lighting. The Baal haTanya tell us to say our morning blessings before Shacharit because blessings come before performing any mitzvah. This is a wonderful reason.

But notice it does hint at another oddity, we are actually washing and blessing Asher Yatzar after using the facilities. How is this? Consider this, the reason we bless after we wash is because it is not appropriate to bless with filthy hands; we cannot say a blessings before we wash so we say it as soon as we are able to, once they are clean. In the same vein we cannot bless for using the toilet before we have actually done so. In addition it is not appropriate to bless in a restroom either or with soiled hands; so we say Asher Yatzar at the first chance we get, which is immediately after the washing with a blessing once we leave the restroom.

We should not delay in saying our morning blessings, if we are required to bless for any reason we should do so. Yet we must keep in mind that once we begin the process of blessing we must continue with any order of blessings that might be conjoined to the ones we are saying. For example, the Netilat Yadayim should be said along with Asher Yatzer in the morning, and Asher Yatzar is also said along with Elohei Nishma without any interruption in between them, etc.

For this reason Sephardim are a bit more scrupulous regarding the saying of the Birchot haShachar and washing with a blessing at home. It is therefore the custom that all the morning blessings are said together. Though Ashkenazi siddurim most often follow with the Blessings for the Torah immediately after Elohei Nishma, in Sephardi siddurim the Torah Blessings are said immediately after the full set of morning blessings. This makes the approach for Sephardim very straight forward, it is explained to us by the Mekor Chaim haLevi, along with advice as how to appreciate the variance in minhag:

א) אחר שיתלבש כראוי, |

יברך כל הבכות |

מברכת נטילת ידים” |

עד ואני הברכם” |

וכך נוהגים בני |

קהילות הספרדים |

וההולכים על פי תורת |

הארי .|

|

ב) ויש נוהגים לברך |

ברכת התורהתחלה |

ואחכ ברכות השחר, |

וכל אדם ינהג |

כמנהג אבותיו. |

1) “After dressing properly,

say all the blessings,

and bless from ‘Netilat Yadaim

until ‘V’ani habrachem;’

and this is the custom of members

of the Sephardic communities

and those who are guided by the teachings

of the Ari z”l

(Rabbi Yitzhak Luriah haKodesh)”

2) “And there are those who say

the Torah Blessings first

and then the Birchot haShachar,

but everyone should act according to the custom

of his ancestors.”

Kitzur Mekor Chaim, Chapter 4:1-2 (p.12)

Rabbi Chaim David haLevi (1924-1998), Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Yaffo

Thus the Nusach haAri z”l which is based upon the Nusach Sephard, includes all the blessings together, so one can pray completely through until the end of the reading of Numbers 6:22-27 that we read with the Blessings of the Torah. This is also the order of the Siddur Nusach haAri z”l of the Baal haTanya (Chabad-Lubavitch), being arranged according to the teachings of the Ari z”l. However, his halachic approach permits one to utilize the blessings as necessary and then omit their repetition with the congregation during the Shacharit service. His position is very much accommodating to the traditional Ashkenazi representation which haphazardly presents the brachot in siddurim to be use as necessary, instead of in a methodical one-direction fashion like Sephardim. Though there is a great deal of variance as the to the order of the Birchot haShachar, the general rule for Ashknazim is according to the Rema who prescribes that the Torah Blessings are said immediate after Asher Yatzar.  (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 46:9; Rema)

Summary:

Question: Do we bless after we wash our hands when we use the toilet?
Answer: After using the toilet the first time during the day, we wash with a blessing. Only this first time, no matter how many times we go the bathroom during the day.

Question: When do we say Asher Yatzar?
Answer: Every time we use the toilet we should say this blessing of gratitude for our proper bodily functions.

Question: Does it matter if we urinate or defecate?
Answer: If we pass even as much as a drop of water we should bless once finished relieving ourselves, immediately after we wash.

Question: Do we wash with a blessing at home or shul?
Answer: One should follow the custom of their community, Sephardim and Kabbalist at home, and Ashkenazim at the synagogue. However, everyone is required to wash if they intend to engage in Torah learning or sacred acts prior to going to shul for Shacharit.

Question: If one says the blessing at home, should they say them with the congregation?
Answer: No, one should not repeat the blessings. They should merely respond “amein” to hearing them being recited if they are said by the shliach tzibur or the congregation during the service.

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The Morning Washing: Clean and Holy Hands


The Morning Washing: Clean and Holy Hands
Negel Vasser and Netilat Yadayim

כל אדם הקם |

ממטתו שחרית, |

בין עשה צרכיו בין לא עשה צרכיו - |

צריך לרחוץ ידיו |

ברביעית הלוג מים מן |

הכלי |

ואפילו אינו רוצה להתפלל עד |

לאחר כמה שעות, |

לפי שכל אדם כשהקבה |

מחזיר לו נשמתו |

נעשה כבריה חדשה |

כמש |

חדשים לבקרים כו,” |

|

שהאדם מפקיד נשמתו עייפה, |

והקבה |

מחזיר לו |

חדשה ורגועה, |

כדי לעבוד להשית |

בכל יכולתו, ולשרתו כל היום, |

כי זה כל האדם לפיכך |

צריכים אנחנו להתקדש |

בקדושתו, |

וליטול ידינו מן הכלי, |

כדי לעבוד עבודתו ולשרתו, |

כמו כהן שהיה מקדש |

ידיו מן הכיור |

בכל יום קודם עבודתו. |

וכיון שצריך לטל ידיו מן |

הכלי דוקא, |

לכן יברך על נטלית ידים,” |

|

ולא על ריחיצת ידים,” |

|

מפני שהכלי |

שממנו נוטלין לידים – |

נקרע נטלאבלשון חזל, |

לכן תקנו בברכה זו |

לשון נטילה, |

להורות דצריך כלי. |

Anyone who rises

from his bed in the morning

whether he relieves himself or does not -

he needs to wash his hands

with a quarter of a lug of water

from a vessel.

Even if he does not intend to prayer

for several hours.

Considering that the Holy One, blessed be He,

He returns his soul;

becoming a newly-created being.

As it is written,

They are new every morning…”

(Lamentation 3:23) [At night]

A person entrusts his weary soul to him

and the Holy One, blessed be He,

returns it to him [in the morning]

new and refreshed.

to worship Him with all his ability,

in any capacity, and serve him all day,

for this is the entire purpose of man [1]

We should therefore sanctify ourselves in

His holiness,

taking our hands with a vessel,

to carry out his duty and service

Like a priests who would sanctify

his hands from the Lavern

everyday before his service.

Having taken his hand with

an actual vessel

therefore bless [with] “al netilat yadayim

(Heb. “to take the hands”)

and not “al rechitzat yadayim

(Heb. “to wash the hands”)

because the vessel

from which one takes the hands

is called a Natla in the words of the Sages.

By them fixing this blessing

with the word netilah

they mean with an actual vessel.[2]”

Shulchan Aruch haRav 4:1 – Helichot Netilat Yadayim -

The Laws Regarding the Sanctification of the Hands

I have to admit, this topic is one that is of such difficulty and can easily bring so much controversy regarding it that I have been very hesitant in approaching this next piece. But it is absolutely necessary to deal with this topic before we move on. I don’t want to debate out the controversies, but I do want to give explanation to the rituals of washing in context of the Nusach haAri z”l. This might differ in some respects from the normative traditions known by Ashkenazim and Sephardim alike as many personal customs and chumras have complicated how different communities approach this custom. I will present the simple and straight forward approach, relying on elements of practice and Jewish law taken from the urging of chachaimim (scholars) of both traditions.

Previously we began our studies with the topic of Modeh Ani, of giving thanks to G-d immediately upon awakening. As we learned one of the unique features about the prayer is that it intentionally does not make use of any of the seven Divine Names before washing, these are the scriptural names which should not be erased: [3] They are:

El, Elohim, Adonai, YHVH, Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh, Shaddai, and Hashem Tzevaot

If we have slept at all unclothed one needs to wash. The reason is because the sages teach us that when we sleep a spirit of uncleanliness, an unenlightening consciousness comes over the body in the absence of our conscious self. According to the Zohar there is a residue of this unclean spirit that remains on the tips of the fingers that should removed by washing (Zohar, Vayishlach). For practical reason, this also is a good practice because one might have touched unclean parts of their body during the night, before touching any other parts of our body especially the orifices of the body, one should first wash. By washing one shows the immediate need to care for oneself, but also to approach our walk and practice before G-d with pure intentions. Based on this it is the Kabbalistic custom to not walk outside of ones reshut hayachid – their personal space, or own domain – without washing; the span of four amot (about 6-feet; or 2 – 2.3-meters).

Washing is one of the most misunderstood of all the mitzvot (commandments). Most often the reason is because people misunderstand exactly why we are washing. This is because washing has had different applications at different points in history. And because there are different types of washing during the day. We need to look at both topics to understand which instance we are actually speaking about here.

The Biblical Significance of Washing

Washing Hands At Kotel

Washing before prayer at the Kotel

One of the earliest examples we have in the scriptures of ritual washing takes place in the context of the Mishkan – the Tabernacle sanctuary. Before the priests entered into the holy confines of the Temple complex to worship they would wash in the copper Lavern that stood inside the courtyard (see Exodus 30:17-21, 38:8). This ritual purification was as a sign of preparing oneself in order to worship. Likewise even sacrifices that were going to be offered on the altar were washed, washing serves as a symbol of preparing something for sacred use.

Now there are other examples biblically of washing; washing for reason of impurity. This is the most often known reason, often enumerated in the mitzvot of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. When one is ritually unclean for some type of sin or affliction they are to wash their hands, wash his clothes, then bath and they are unclean for a certain amount of time (example, Leviticus 15:11). Because this topic comes up so often, it is often thought of as the only reason that people of the bible washed. People often associate all washing with removing illness and for reason of cleanliness.

However, this is not the case here when we wash our hands in the morning. Simply put the biblical form of washing and bathing is to make someone ritually pure, to remove tumah that would prohibit them from being able to enter into the Holy Temple. Since the Temple does not stand today, and we have no means of attaining true ritual purity through its rites, we are not concerned with ritual purity to the same extent (as we see this is a full washing of ones hands, feet and clothing; as well as full and complete ablution, immersion in a stream). All of us until the future Temple is rebuilt are in a state of general impurity, but as we don’t utilize the Temple rituals this is without consequence to us.

Secondly, if we consider it, obviously a person that was subject to tumah impurity could not ascent to the Temple complex anyhow. Until they were pure again, no matter how many times they washed their hands, they could not go up into the sacred places until the days or even weeks of their quarantine passed. Thus the biblical washing in the courtyard is undoubtedly something all together different.

The reason we wash is not to somehow elevate ourselves out of impurity necessarily, but to elevate our mindset through an act of devotion. When we consider this the words of the Psalm of David make sense:

I will wash my hands in innocence,

and so will I surround Your altar, Hashem.”

| Eirchatz b’nikayon kafi

| vaasov’vah et-mizbachach Hashem

Psalm 26:5

We wash our hands as an act of purifying ourselves for divine service, as we wash our hands we are doing so with intention of coming before G-d with a pure and innocent heart. This is further explained to us by the Psalms as well:

Who shall ascend

into the mountain of Hashem,

and who shall stand in His holy place?

He who has clean hands and a pure heart.”

| Mi ya’aleh

| b’har Hashem;

| u’mi-yakum bimekom kadosho.

| N’eki chapaim u-var leyvav.

Psalms 24:3-4a

Our clean hands are symbols of our innocence, hands free of innocent blood and the stains of wrong doing.

The Rabbinic History and Law Regarding Washing

One of the reasons this washing in the morning is often misunderstood and people debate the practices related to it is because we don’t have a great deal of Talmud writing regarding this practice of morning washing. Though we will find extensive writing regarding the washings of the priests, the washing of sacrifices, immersions of vessels and people in the mikveh, and washing before and after meals; we will be left with a lot of ambiguity relating to morning washing. This would be something that would be dealt with in clarity by the later halachic writings from the Shulchan Aruch in the 16th century on, but this specific morning washing we are talking about is not a major rabbinic topic in Talmudic times.

The most closely related form of washing from the Talmud, the example that stick out in peoples mind the most when it comes to ritual washing, is the use of yetilat yadayim - washing with a blessing for the elevation of the hands that is taken from the Talmud. Though there are different types of washing the one most people associate mentally with is washing with a blessing before a meal (in which bread is eaten).

Though ritual washing would be an important topic about Judaism noticed by foreign cultures and religions, the broad practice of ritual washing was not established until well after the destruction of the Temple. Rituals which were reserved for the priesthood in the Temple era would be memorialized in everyday practice, reintroduces as spiritual practices that the whole community of Israel would participate in as early as the 3rd century CE. A lot of these symbols became things that would take place around the table, a symbolic altar. Just as the rabbis instituted the blessing and salting of bread in honor of the holy sacrifices that were salted, we wash our hands before a meal just as the priest washed before their sacrificial service. We wash to rise to a spiritual occasion, not to remove germs or physical impurity. Though one needs clean hands for netilat yadayim, the blessing of the hands, it does not purify the hands; it sanctifies them, prepares them for spiritual use.

Washing Hands At KotelScholars often note that the word netilat is a strange and uncommon word. One cannot escape that the word netilat does not mean to wash. To translate it as such would be incorrect. Notice when we say the blessing for the lulav the blessing of netilat lulav is recited; it doesn’t mean to wave the lulav, and most certainly it doesn’t mean to wash the lulav. Netilat is often understood by the scholars to mean to elevate. They notice that during the post-temple rabbinic age the people took to washing their hands by elevating them, washing to the wrist from a vessel. It was often assumed by linguists this practice came about by being suggested because such a uniquely styled vessel in the Greek speaking Mediterranean is called a natla (αντλίον), (and thus it is likewise named as such in Aramaic) was utilized for this purpose. (see Talmud Bavli, Brachot Chullin 107a)

The blessing makes more sense to us if we use the modern Hebrew understanding of what it means to netilah; it means to take, to receive, to accept something. But it doesn’t mean to take just in the sense of merely obtaining something; it can also mean to accept responsibility. As we wash our hands with a blessing we are taking our hands and accepting upon them responsibility to do righteousness and holiness with these hands.

The question that often arises for people when they are learning how to wash, is when do we say a blessing for washing. Some people assume that every time we wash, we say a blessing. This is not so. We wash with a blessing before a meal, because we are about to bless for eating. We are blessing in order to do a specific holy acts of blessing again over food and eating.

However, when we awake in the morning the first thing that we as proper people should do is to ready ourselves for the day. That means getting dressing and cleaning up; washing our face, brushing our teeth, etc. However, remember, as I stated the kabbalists have taught us one should not touch any orifices of their body with unclean hands upon awaking because it can bring harm to us.

Just as pious people do not walk four amot without a kippah (a yarmulke, a head covering) out of respect for G-d, pious Jews are of the practice of not walking more than four amot without washing to avoid harm. Though technically the rule of four amot can extend to the personal domain outside of one’s home, it is the practice of the pious to not walk more than four amot from their bed without washing. For this reason it is the custom of most Chassidim, and many Sephardim and mystics, to wash at the place one slept. Though one might reckon their reasons are for the purpose of being stringent in regard to the distance of four amot, the true impulse to doing so lies behind the spirit of the devout to not delay in doing a mitzvah. We should jump to perform a mitzvah as soon as we can, not putting it off. In enthusiasm to start doing works of holiness the pious make practice to wash at their bedside.

Now when one washed at their bedside, they do not need to recite the blessing of netilat yadayim, as they are not going to going to engage in any specific holy act immediately. In fact it is preferred by our rabbis that one merely wash to remove the spirit of impurity from ones hands; pouring clean water from a vessel over one hands, first the right then the left, alternating three times back and forth. The water should be allowed to flow into a bowl or basin, and disposed of in a place where one does not intended to walk; this impure water is specifically what we call negel vasser in Yiddish (lit. “nail water”), meaning dead and impure water.

Now that ones hands are clean they may go about washing and doing all their daily activities. We do not say a blessing because we are going to engage in our mundane activities. We reserve the blessing of netilat yadayim for after we are finished arising, specifically after we have evacuated our bowels by going to the restroom and after saying the appropriate blessing of asher yatzar, we pair those two blessings together. Being relieved and refreshed, we wash with a blessing in order to go about the rest of our spiritual and worldly obligations. But this is a topic we will discuss more in detail next time, when we discuss the blessing of Asher Yatzar.

Summary:

Question: Why do wash?
Answer: In order to remove an impure and unenlightened spirit of slumber.

Question: How often do we need to wash in this manner?
Answer: After every time we sleep we wash.

Question: Do we wash with a blessing?
Answer: When we arise we do not need to wash with a blessing.

Question: What if there is no water for washing available?
Answer: One should rub their hands together with a dry clean substance such as dirt or sand [4].

 ________________________________________

1 – See Ecclesiastes 12:13

2 – This is in agreement with the Rashba (Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet of 11th century Spain), vol. 1, §190, and §595.

3 – See Shulchan Aruch haRav 4:3, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi.

4 – See Shulchan Aruch haRav 4:3


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