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Halachos of washing the hands in the morning (part III)
MBY 4:2-23 In truth, to fully encompass the topic of hand-washing (and I am not even touching the hand-washing before a meal), we must back up again and identify actually three different reasons for hand-washing. For this summary, I was aided in great measure by the contemporary sefer, Piskei Teshuvos, by Harav Simcha Rabinovitz shlit”a of Yerushalayim. If we can get this outline straight, I will be very gratified, iy”H! Although we will not have learned every detail about the topic, this will be the last lesson pertaining to siman 4. (Note: Of particular interest regarding ‘netilas yadayim’ is whether or not one has to wash with a cup, and, if yes, how many times must he pour over each hand? If you are like me, you have probably been confused about these things!)

For this discussion, we will indentify three general reasons that we must wash our hands:
1) To remove ‘ruach ra’ah’ and ‘tumah’ (see below for translations)
2) To remove dirt
3) To prepare for davening

1) To remove ‘ruach ra’ah’ (henceforth to be notated as RR) and ‘tumah’:
The concept of RR (lit. bad spirit) is “meta-physical” – i.e. it is not physical dirt, nor is it even ‘tumah’ (lit. “impurity” - another meta-physical concept in the Torah, which is commonly associated with death.) RR is a negative spiritual “aura” (for lack of a better word) which surrounds a person, and it can be generated in various ways. The heaviest form of RR is created when a person sleeps, and according to tradition, it rests most heavily on the tips of one’s fingers. A person should seek to remove this RR as soon as possible upon waking, because it is detrimental to his physical and spiritual well-being, as well as to other people with whom he has contact. To remove RR that is generated by sleep, one must pour water from a cup three times on each hand, alternating. This form of washing is commonly called ‘negel vasser’ which, I found out from Mr. Fred Glusman of Atlanta, means literally “nail water”. Nothing else works to remove heavy RR! There are other factors which can generate a lighter form of RR, including: using the bathroom and nail- or hair-cutting. If a person contacts actual ‘tumah’ by touching a ‘meis’ (corpse) or just entering a cemetery, that may also be removed (partially) by pouring water on his hands. While most authorities maintain that ‘tumah’ - like RR generated by sleep - requires pouring on ‘negel vasser’, they are divided over the removal of lighter forms of RR, as to whether they require pouring from a cup at all, or simply rinsing the hands in water. (Note: The common ‘minhag’ custom is to pour three times from a cup to remove all forms of RR and ‘tumah’.)

2) To remove dirt: Dirt is physical, and, in theory, its removal from one’s hands does not require a ritual washing. Besides water, halacha recognizes other cleaning agents which remove dirt, even so little as rubbing the hands against a dry abrasive surface, such as a rock or rough wood! Just as with RR, there are different degrees of dirt. If one touches excrement, body parts that are usually covered or feet; or if he scratches his head or kills a bug with his hands, he is considered dirty on the higher level. If one touches dirt, mud or nasal excretions, he is considered dirty on the lower level. As long as one cleans himself from this dirt in some manner, he may say brachos or learn Torah, without using water. However, as we will see in the next section, in order to daven (i.e. shema and tefila), he must wash with water, particularly if he is dirty on the higher level. (Note: There is a stricter view, not required by halacha, that rules that the higher level of dirt actually generates a light form of RR. Accordingly, this view advocates washing with a cup even to remove heavy dirt anytime!)

3) To prepare for davening, one is required to wash with water, even for dirt (and certainly for RR.) Furthermore, even if a person is not aware of any RR or dirt on his hands (Heb: ‘stam yadayim’), he still must wash with water before he davens, and this holds true for all tefilos – shacharis, mincha and maariv. The reason for this requirement is the subject of the dispute between the Ro”sh and the Rashb”a that we discussed in our previous lessons. According to the Ro”sh it is because it is presumed that a person did touch a covered part of his body inadvertently, and according to the Rashb”a it is because we must “sanctify” ourselves before serving Hashem through tefila. (Note: Remember, also, that for shacharis, this washing before davening requires a bracha!) Does washing for davening require a cup? Well, let’s think about it: if one has certain RR (e.g. he has just used the bathroom), then for sure he does, and pouring three times at that (i.e. after all, he would need that anyway, even if he wasn’t about to daven, right?) If he has certain dirt, or even if was unaware of either dirt or RR, he should ‘l’chatchila’ (preferably) use a cup, because of the mitzvah of washing before davening; however, one pouring would suffice in that case. (Note: If a person washed for davening, and had express intent to guard his hands from RR or dirt, he is not required to wash for the next davening, e.g. if he washed for mincha and guarded his hands, he need not wash again for maariv. Similarly between shacharis and musaf.)

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