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
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
“According to the law of the Gemara
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
‘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
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
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 יצר” אלא כשעשה צרכין, |
מכל מקום נהגו העולם |
לברך בכל שחרית |
תכף אחר ברכת |
“על נטילת ידים” |
ברכת “אשר יצר“, |
שבכל יום נעשה האדם |
בריה חדשה, |
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 יצר” זו, |
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 |
“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
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 ב‘ פעמים |
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 |
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.”
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 |
(סמ“ג סימן כ“ו 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)
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 |
“על נטילת ידים” |
ו“אשר 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, |
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.
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 |
ב) ויש נוהגים לברך |
“ברכת התורה” תחלה |
ואח“כ 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)
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.
- Modeh Ani: “I give thanks before You”
- The Morning Wasing: Clean and Holy Hands
- Shabbat Lights: The Tradition of Great Scholars to Light with Olive Oil
Do you need a siddur? This blog proudly cooperates with The Open Siddur Project. The project is a volunteer based organization dedicated to documenting and making the wealth of Jewish prayer and prayer resources available with free, redistributable licensing in electronic format and print formats. You can find my contributions of liturgy HERE. Find out how you can also be a part of this worthy cause!