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Morning Hand-Washing

Morning Hand-Washing

Get Your Hands Wet!


You're up, you're dressed, you even thanked G‑d for returning your soul—what more do we want? Wait: Did you wash your hands before getting out of bed?

The Reasons:

  1. In the Holy Temple, the priests would wash their hands before their daily service. Every individual is a priest in the temple of his or her home and heart.
  2. While the body rests, the soul ascends heavenward to recharge. Only the most basic soul-powers are left in place—those required for basic bodily functions. The resulting void allows for a negative spiritual state called tumah. Upon awakening, we wash our hands to remove the remaining vestiges of that tumah.
  3. During the night, the hands often touched private areas; we therefore wash before praying.

The Procedure:

  1. Before sleep, prepare a cup of water and an empty basin and place it beside your bedBefore sleep, prepare a cup of water and an empty basin and place it beside (not beneath) your bed.
  2. When you wake, after reciting the Modeh Ani, wash the right hand until the wrist and then the left hand; repeat, and then repeat again. This washing is called Netilat Yadayim (or, in Yiddish, Negel Vasser).
  3. Say the blessing: Blessed are you, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us concerning the washing of the hands.
  4. Discard the water ASAP.


  • Chabad custom: After washing hands, getting dressed, and using the restroom, wash a second time (using same procedure) at a sink, and only then recite the blessing—in a more presentable state of mind and body. (Note: Water should be poured on to the hands from a vessel, not a faucet.)
  • Before Netilat Yadayim we do not: walk four cubits (approx 6 feet); touch clothing, food, or any body orifice; recite any blessings or prayer.
  • Didn't wash at your bedside? Wash at first possible opportunity.
  • Wash anytime you sleep more than 60 minutes. If it's a daytime nap, no need to prepare the water beforehand, just walk to nearest sink—and no blessing.
Illustrations by Yehuda Lang. To view more artwork by this artist, click here.
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Join the Discussion
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1000 characters remaining Staff June 24, 2016

Ritual hand washing is done with plain water, this hand washing is in addition to regular hand washing that is done with soap. Reply

adele mandagie jakarta June 23, 2016

Do we wash with soap or plain water? Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn May 26, 2016

What about the toe nails? Do impurities also remain on them therefore we have to wash them? Reply Staff October 26, 2015

It goes without saying that soap should be used when washing one's hands. This article is about ritual hand washing, which is separate from the routine hand washing one does. Reply

Anonymous October 23, 2015

What about soap? For hygienic (not spiritual) purposes, I was always taught to wash with water and soap. Reply

Anoo Philipines October 15, 2015

yes I do perform the washing of hands and recite the netilat yadayim in hebrew berakah not in English . Reply

Jim Northwest Florida November 17, 2014

What about those of us who have to get up in the middle of the night to "use the facilities" and then go back to sleep? Do we still perform Netilat Yadayim even though we're not "technically" waking up to start the day? Reply Staff July 29, 2013

Modeh ani should be said as soon as one awakens, while still in bed. Prior to reciting the other morning blessings it is sufficient to rinse one's mouth. Reply

Hope Gershe July 28, 2013

After Modeh Ani I go to the restroom brush my teeth and then recite the blessings.... How can I possibly recite the blessings without brushing one's teeth? Reply

Abigael June 25, 2013

Mrs L - this mitzvah is definitely for women, too. And children! Reply

MutantBuzzard 90210, usa March 7, 2012

what is the difference between a mitzvah and a tradition? Reply

Zalmy Engel December 8, 2009

Well, y'know what? I almost always forget! Reply

Joy Krauthammer Northridge, USA November 11, 2009


I have questions based on your teaching.

B. TUMAH: What is and what happens in the "negarive spiritual state," the "void / tuman?"
"What are the vestiges?"

C. Is touching "private parts", the only body parts that cause an issue?
Are B & C connected so that "C" becomes "negative"? or is C a separate issue?

D. Why don't you offer the blessing in Hebrew?

Does the hand washing have anything to do with the fact that when the soul leaves during sleep, the opening remains and thus evil energies can enter the openings???
If so, what are these entitiies?

Why is the hand wshing order right hand and then left hand, and two times?

For what reason is the water discarded "ASAP"?

Why can't water directly from "faucet" be used?

Why is "60 minutes" the delineating time?
I notice lots of "60" issues, i.e. 1/60.

At what point of sleep does the soul "ascend" and then descend?

Can you please recommend some more deeply written essay on these topics?
Thank you Reply

Mrs. L. Brooklyn, NY November 11, 2009

Just wondering, is this a uniquely male mitzvah or for ladies as well? The cartoon shows a sleepy fellow. Thank you! Reply