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Halachos of washing the hands in the morning (part I)
MBY 4:1a In this very brief introductory lesson, we would like to clarify something that some people may be unaware of. Most of us are familiar of with the concept of ‘negel vasser’ (Ed. I can’t even translate it literally, but it refers to the washing of the hands upon waking from sleep.) We are taught that there is a certain ‘tumah’ (impurity) which rests upon our hands when we sleep, and that the only way to remove it is by pouring water on the hands from a cup three times each, alternating. In fact, this kind of washing is not limited to the nighttime, but is relevant any time a person sleeps for more than a half-hour, according to most authorities.

What many may not know is that there is another kind of handwashing we are required to do, which has nothing to do with the removal of this ‘tumah’. That is what is referred to in halacha as ‘netilas yadaim shacharis’ (lit. washing the hands in the morning). There are two distinct aspects to this washing: 1) It must be done, at the latest, before davening Shacharis, and: 2) a bracha of ‘al netilas yadaim’ should be made over this washing. What is not totally clear is why this hand-washing was required. According to one opinion, the reason was to make sure that the hands are clean from touching dirty or perspired areas of the body, and according to another, the reason was to ritually “sanctify” one’s hands before beginning a new day of service to Hashem, similar to the way the ‘Kohanim’ used to wash their hands in the ‘kiyor’ (laver) in the Beis Hamikdash. (Ed: Note that neither reason relates to the normally understood concept of the ‘negel vasser’.) In the following lessons, iy”H, we will learn more about this morning hand-washing, when it should be done, and when the bracha should be made.

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