In our introductory lesson to this siman, we learned that there are three reasons that we must wash our hands in the morning:
1) To remove the ‘ruach ra’ah’ (evil spirit) which rests on our hands when we sleep (a.k.a. ‘negel vasser’). [Note: This explanation is given explicitly in the Talmud, and all halachic authorities agree to this reason for hand-washing; yet, apparently, this reason is not why the bracha ‘al netilas yadayim’ was instituted, as we will show.]
2) To sanctify ourselves for a new day of service to Hashem, similar to the way the ‘Kohanim’ (priests) used to sanctify their hands in the ‘kiyor’ (laver) before beginning the Temple Service each day. [Note: This reason is put forth by the 14th C authority, Rashb”a (Rabbeinu Shlomo ben Aderet) as to why the Sages instituted morning hand-washing with the bracha ‘al netilas yadayim’.]
3) To clean our hands from dirt or perspiration as preparation for the morning ‘tefilos’ (prayers) [Note: This reason is put forth by a parallel authority, Ro”sh (Rabbeinu Asher), as to the reason for morning hand-washing with a bracha.
In order to get a better understanding of the sequence of morning hand-washing and the making of its bracha, let us analyze the matter a bit in light of the three reasons above:
Based upon reason #1 (‘negel vasser’), the washing must be done as soon as possible after waking, so as not to allow the ‘ruach ra’ah’ to remain on the hands. On the other hand (n.p.i.), as mentioned, the ‘negel vasser’ reason did not generate a bracha-requirement. For example, according to halacha, one washes ‘negel vasser’ after sleeping anytime during the day or night, and yet a bracha is not said after that washing unless it is morning. Thus we see that ‘negel vasser’ washing does not create a bracha-requirement.
According to the Rashb”a’s reason #2, what creates a requirement to wash and make a bracha is the fact that we are beginning a brand new day of service to Hashem. Accordingly, it would seem, that the proper thing to do would be to wash ‘negel vasser’ - even before using the bathroom - then use the bathroom (thereby cleaning out one’s system so that he is worthy of making a bracha), then wash the hands again, this time with a bracha, having “sanctified” himself as early in the day as possible.
According to the Ro”sh’s reason #3, however, the hand-washing with its bracha is primarily associated to ‘tefilah’ – i.e. one physically cleans his hands from dirt and perspiration which he most likely touched on his body while he slept, thereby making him clean enough to daven. Now, we all know that in the time between that first visit to the bathroom and the beginning of davening, many things can happen that can cause one’s hands to need a re-washing - e.g. getting dressed, using the bathroom a second time, etc. The best time, it would seem, to wash and make the bracha according to the Ro”sh, would be right before davening!
The theory in practice
I lead a Talmud class in the Kollel Beis Midrash one hour before davening on most weekdays. Invariably, I use the bathroom again before davening (Ed: You know, all that coffee, a water bottle etc.) Thus by the time I am ready to daven, I have washed my hands at least three times: once ‘negel wasser’, once before leaving the house and then again right before davening.
So when should I make the bracha ‘al netilas yadayim’?
According to my understanding of the Mishnah Berura, I should not make the bracha until the washing right before davening! Why? According to the Ro”sh, that is the hand-washing that creates the bracha-requirement in the first place. Even according to the Rashb”a, one is permitted to defer his morning brachos a little, particularly if he hasn’t yet davened. In order to satisfy both opinions, the decision should be to wait until both criteria are fulfilled. Is this clear?