A few months ago, my brother was visiting from New York. Before he came, he asked me what he could bring the kids as a gift. I told him that negel vasser shissels and kvorts would be a wonderful idea. Now, if you are wondering what all that Yiddish means, wonder no longer.
Negel vasser—literally, “nail water”—is the water we use to wash our hands, removing the impurity that attaches itself to our fingertips (nails). Shissel means “bowl” or “basin,” and a kvort is a cup.
Now for some more explaining. We wash our hands at various points throughout the day: when we wake up, after we relieve ourselves, before we pray or eat a meal with bread, to name a few. Normally, it is no big deal: you just mosey over to the sink, where most Jewish households have a handy-dandy kvort, and you wash in the specified manner. The one exception is when we wake up in the morning. At that time, the chassidic tradition is to not even leave our beds before we wash our hands. But who has a sink next to his bed? Enter the shissel and kvort. Before you go to sleep at night, you fill the cup with water and place it and the basin next to your bed. When you wake up, you just lean over, and wash your hands right into the basin.
Stepping into your negel vasser is the Jewish version of the cream pies that get thrown at Garfield every Monday morning—a rude awakening, to say the least.
From when our kids were little, we have been making sure to wash their hands in the morning—or at least trying to—but not actually washing next to their beds. But now that our big ones are four and three respectively, we decided to take the plunge, hoping that they would not plunge too often.
When Eliezer showed up with the pink and blue gifts, Y and R were thrilled. That night they gladly carried their basins and cups filled with water to their beds. I’ll admit it: the cups were not actually full of water, but an inch or two is more than enough for a kid that age—and much less likely to spill.
Fast forward a few months. Negel vaser at the bedside has become the norm. Even our one-year-old, who does not yet have her own set—and would not be able to use one in any case, because she sleeps in a crib—makes sure that everyone is all set at bedtime. A makes it her business to “help” me carry the full kvorts and basins to both of her big siblings’ beds every night.
The good news is that the kids have yet to make any huge messes, and the sound of Modeh Ani (the wakeup prayer of thanks) followed by splash, splash, splash, splash, splash, splash . . . pitter-patter . . . dump (water pouring into the bathtub) is music to our ears. Now, if only they could somehow figure out how to do it after 7:00 . . .