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Friday, December 25, 2009

Netilas Yadayim - Ritualistic Hand Washing Part I

It is well known that one must wash their hands before eating bread, and make a blessing. This is by Rabbinic edict. There is then another Talmudic rule that one should make the blessing of ‘Al Ntilas Yadayim’ in the morning as well. Although no reason is given, the Rosh (Berachos 9:23) explains that when one sleeps their hands travel and they certainly touched ‘unclean’ places. (We will discuss the idea of touching impure places more at length later). They must therefore wash their hands before davening.

A more Kabbalistic reason is given by the Rashba (Shut 191): When one awakens they are like a new person. This reality necessitates our immediate thanks and appreciation to Hashem, which is comparable to the Avodah of the Kohen in the Beis Hamikdash. Just as he must wash his hands from the Kiyur we too must wash our hands from a cup.

The Mishnah Berurah quotes both of the above reasons, and writes that we necessitate washing for either of them, albeit not with a Bracha. Therefore if one was up all night (or slept with gloves) they would still have to wash their hands.

There is a third reason described by the Gemara in Shabbos (109b) is Ruach Ra’ah, a metaphysical negative ‘spirit’ that rests on a person overnight, and one is cautioned against touching any facial orifice before washing your hands. [This is also the reason why it’s necessary to wash three times, and with a cup, which we will discuss later]. This seems to be related, in Halachic literature, to an idea presented by the Arizal: The Gemara says that sleep is 1/60th of death. The Arizal explains that when one awakens all vestiges of “death” leave him, aside from his hands which still retain some influence (and no blessings should be recited in that state). One must therefore wash his hands before being able to say any blessings.
The first two reasons necessitate a blessing (according to their respective authors) the third reason does not necessitate a blessing, but does impel one to wash ones hands as soon as possible after awaking.

Next we will discuss other occasions that necessitate Halachic hand washing.


Posted on 12/25 at 06:59 AM • Permalink
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Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch HaberRabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber is sought after by all who know him for his Halachic and practical advice. His keen ability to put complicated matters into a digestible perspective coupled with his ability to get the facts, make him the perfect blogger to help us all “Do It Right”.

A native of Buffalo, NY, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber spent his childhood globetrotting with his family. His pioneering spirit first surfaced in Melbourne, Australia, where he was excited to be a member of the opening class of Mesivta Bnei Torah. From Australia the Haber family settled down in Monsey, NY. Ever the maverick, Tzvi promptly left home to study in Yeshiva Ohr Hameir in Peekskill, where he became a mainstay of the Yeshiva, and inspired his younger brothers as well as several friends from the Mesivta in Melbourne to follow him. He then joined his chaburah in Jerusalem, first at the Mir Yeshiva and then at the Bais Medrash of Rav Dovid Soloveitchik, a senior scion of the famed Brisk dynasty. As his globetrotting family returned to Jerusalem, Tzvi returned to the US, to freeze in the famed, yet comparatively chilled Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood.

 In 2004 he met his wife, Suzanne Schor, a native of the warmer Los Angeles climate, and the couple settled in Lakewood, where he focused his pioneering and independent strengths on the study of Halacha, or Jewish law. His innovative spirit and innate ability to help others seeking to clarify the finer points of Judaism and integrate them into their daily lives inspired his decision to commute daily from Lakewood to the Lower East Side of Manhattan in order to bask in the day to day exposure to the world renowned Posek, HaRav David Feinstein. The daily commute was more than compensated for when he received Semicha from Rav Feinstien and the Kollel L’Torah U’lhorah (a division of Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem) in Tamuz 5768, June 2008.

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