SECTION 4 Laws Relating to Washing the Hands. (1–2)

סימן ד דִּינֵי נְטִילַת יָדַיִם, וּבוֹ ב סְעִיפִים:

1 Our1 Sages ordained that one should wash his hands with water every morning and recite the blessing Al netilas yadayim, [praising G‑d for the mitzvah of washing the hands].2 The rationale [for this ordinance] is explained by some3 [as preparation] for the morning recital of Shema and Shemoneh Esreh, for the hands are active4 and probably touched unclean parts of the body during sleep, as will be explained.5

A supportive allusion to this washing may be found in the words,6 “I will wash my hands with cleanliness and I will encircle Your altar, O G‑d, raising my voice in thanksgiving....”

If water is not available one may clean his hands with any substance that serves that purpose,7 as will be explained in sec. 92[:4-5], for the verse does not state, “I will wash my hands with water,” but rather “...in cleanliness.” Nevertheless, it is a mitzvah to go as far as a mil8 to seek water [for the morning washing]. Even if one is on a journey, one should retrace one’s steps as far as a mil, as will be explained in that section. A blessing is recited for this mitzvah,9 as is done when fulfilling any mitzvah of Rabbinic origin.10

By contrast, [a person who needs to clean his hands] before studying Torah or before mentioning G‑d’s name in any blessing apart from the recitation of Shema and Shemoneh Esreh need not search for water;11 it is sufficient that he clean his hands with any substance that serves that purpose. Therefore even if a person in such a situation washes his hands with water, he should not recite a blessing.

According to this opinion, however, for the afternoon and evening prayers one is required to search for water for a distance of a mil,12 as for the morning prayers. According to this opinion, moreover, one is required to recite the blessing Al netilas yadayim before the afternoon and evening prayers, if his hands are not clean and he is required to wash.13

This, however, is not the prevailing custom throughout the Jewish world.14 Instead, [the blessing] Al netilas yadayim is recited only in the morning. For this was the practice ordained by our Sages: to wash one’s hands with water in the morning alone, not so that they should be clean before prayer, but for the reason explicit in the Zohar (Parshas Vayeishev [I, 184b]) and also mentioned in the Talmud15 — to remove the spirit of impurity that rests on the hands that results from the withdrawal of the soul’s holiness from the person’s body at night when he is asleep.16 [The washing enables the person] to sanctify himself in G‑d’s holiness17 by the pouring of pure water from a container, just as a kohen [in the Beis HaMikdash] would sanctify his hands,18 [washing] from the Basin. This is the reason [our Sages] ordained the recitation of the blessing [which states] “Who sanctified us....”19

In practice, nevertheless, out of deference to the first opinion,20 one should seek water up to the distance of a mil in order to wash before the afternoon and evening prayers as well. A blessing, however, should not be recited,21 for whenever there is a doubt with regard to the recitation of a blessing, leniency prevails and it is not required.22 Moreover, [at those times] it is unnecessary to wash from a container; the hands may be rinsed in water in a container even if it is not whole,23 or in water collected on the ground — even if the water does not amount to a reviis24 and even if it would be [otherwise] invalid for washing before a meal.25

[The rationale is that] since washing before prayer is only for the sake of cleanliness, a container is not necessary,26 nor is it necessary that the water be poured by a person,27 nor must the water meet the usual requirements for acceptability,28 nor must the other prerequisites for washing for a meal be met.

However, as when washing for a meal, one must wash the [fingers] up to the joint,29 i.e., where the fingers reach the palm of the hand, as stated by the first opinion cited at the conclusion of sec. 161[:8]. And to fulfill the requirement stated by the second opinion there, one should take a little more water in one’s hand and rub the palms together, in fulfillment of the verse, “I will wash my hands in cleanliness.”

א תִּקְּנוּ חֲכָמִים1 לִטֹּל יָדָיו בַּמַּיִם בְּכָל שַׁחַר, וּלְבָרֵךְ "עַל נְטִילַת יָדָיִם".א, 2 וְהַטַּעַם, יֵשׁ מְפָרְשִׁים ב, 3 מִשּׁוּם קְרִיאַת שְׁמַע וּתְפִלָּה שֶׁל שַׁחֲרִית, לְפִי שֶׁהַיָּדַיִם עַסְקָנִיּוֹת הֵן,ג, 4 וּמִן הַסְּתָם מִשְׁמְשׁוּ בַּשֵּׁנָה בַּמְּקוֹמוֹת הַמְטֻנָּפִים שֶׁבְּגוּפוֹ כְּמוֹ שֶׁיִּתְבָּאֵר.ד, 5 וּסְמָךְ לִנְטִילָה זוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ה, 6 "אֶרְחַץ בְּנִקָּיוֹן כַּפָּי וַאֲסֹבְבָה אֶת מִזְבַּחֲךָ ה', לַשְׁמִעַ בְּקוֹל תּוֹדָה וגו'". וְאַף שֶׁכְּשֶׁאֵין לוֹ מַיִם יָכוֹל לְנַקּוֹת יָדָיו בְּכָל דָּבָר שֶׁמְּנַקֶּה,ו, 7 שֶׁהֲרֵי לֹא נֶאֱמַר "אֶרְחַץ בַּמַּיִם" אֶלָּא "בְּנִקָּיוֹן", וּכְמוֹ שֶׁיִּתְבָּאֵר בְּסִימָן צב ז – מִכָּל מָקוֹם מִצְוָה לְחַזֵּר אַחַר מַיִם עַד מִיל.ח, 8 וַאֲפִלּוּ הוֹלֵךְ בַּדֶּרֶךְ – יַחֲזֹר לַאֲחוֹרָיו עַד מִיל, כְּמוֹ שֶׁיִּתְבָּאֵר שָׁם. וּמְבָרְכִים עַל מִצְוָה זוֹ,ט, 9 כְּדֶרֶךְ שֶׁמְּבָרְכִין עַל כָּל מִצְוֹת שֶׁל דִּבְרֵיהֶם.י, 10 אֲבָל לְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה וּלְהַזְכָּרַת הַשֵּׁם בִּשְׁאָר בְּרָכוֹת, חוּץ מִקְּרִיאַת שְׁמַע וּתְפִלָּה – אֵין צָרִיךְ לְחַזֵּר אַחַר מַיִם,יא, 11 אֶלָּא דַּי לְנַקּוֹת יָדָיו בְּכָל דָּבָר שֶׁמְּנַקֶּה. וּלְפִיכָךְ, גַּם כְּשֶׁנּוֹטֵל בַּמַּיִם – לֹא יְבָרֵךְ. אֲבָל לִתְפִלַּת מִנְחָה אוֹ עַרְבִית – צָרִיךְ לְחַזֵּר אַחַר מַיִם עַד מִיל יב, 12 כְּמוֹ לִתְפִלַּת הַשַּׁחַר, לִסְבָרָא זוֹ. וְלִסְבָרָא זוֹ – צָרִיךְ לְבָרֵךְ גַּם כֵּן "עַל נְטִילַת יָדַיִם" לְמִנְחָה אוֹ לְעַרְבִית,יג אִם אֵין יָדָיו נְקִיּוֹת יד וְצָרִיךְ לִטֹּל.13

אֲבָל אֵין הַמִּנְהָג כֵּן עַכְשָׁו בְּכָל יִשְׂרָאֵל,טו,14 אֶלָּא אֵין מְבָרְכִין "עַל נְטִילַת יָדָיִם" רַק בַּשַּׁחַר לְבַד, כִּי כָּךְ הָיְתָה תַּקָּנַת חֲכָמִים לִטֹּל יָדָיו בַּמַּיִם בְּכָל שַׁחַר לְבַד, וְלֹא בִּשְׁבִיל נִקְיוֹן כַּפַּיִם לִתְפִלָּה, אֶלָּא מֵהַטַּעַם הַמְפֹרָשׁ בַּזֹּהַר (פָּרָשַׁת וַיֵּשֶׁב) טז וּמֻזְכָּר גַּם כֵּן בַּגְּמָרָא: יז,15 כְּדֵי לְהַעֲבִיר רוּחַ הַטֻּמְאָה הַשּׁוֹרָה עַל הַיָּדַיִם, מִפְּנֵי הִסְתַּלְּקוּת קְדֻשַּׁת הַנְּשָׁמָה בַּלַּיְלָה מִגּוּף הָאָדָם כְּשֶׁיָּשֵׁן,יח,16 וּלְהִתְקַדֵּשׁ בִּקְדֻשָּׁתוֹ שֶׁל מָקוֹם־בָּרוּךְ־הוּא,יט,17 עַל יְדֵי זְרִיקַת מַיִם טְהוֹרִים מִן הַכְּלִי,כ כְּכֹהֵן הַמְקַדֵּשׁ יָדָיו18 מִן הַכִּיּוֹר, וּלְכָךְ תִּקְּנוּ לְבָרֵךְ כא "אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ כו'".19

וּמִכָּל מָקוֹם, רָאוּי לָחוּשׁ גַּם לַסְּבָרָא הָרִאשׁוֹנָה כב,20 לְמַעֲשֶׂה, לְחַזֵּר אַחַר מַיִם גַּם לִתְפִלַּת מִנְחָה וְעַרְבִית עַד מִיל, אֲבָל לֹא לְבָרֵךְ,כג,21 שֶׁסְּפֵק בְּרָכוֹת לְהָקֵל.22 אַךְ אֵין צָרִיךְ לִטֹּל מִן הַכְּלִי,כד אֶלָּא יָכוֹל לְשַׁכְשֵׁךְ בְּתוֹכוֹ.כה וַאֲפִלּוּ אֵינוֹ שָׁלֵם,23 וַאֲפִלּוּ בַּמַּיִם שֶׁבַּקַּרְקַע, וַאֲפִלּוּ אֵין בָּהֶם רְבִיעִית,כו,24 וַאֲפִלּוּ מַיִם הַפְּסוּלִים לִנְטִילַת יָדַיִם לַסְּעוּדָה,כז,25 כִּי מֵאַחַר שֶׁנְּטִילַת יָדַיִם לִתְפִלָּה אֵינָהּ אֶלָּא מִשּׁוּם נִקָּיוֹן – אֵין צָרִיךְ כְּלִי,כח,26 וְלֹא כֹּחַ נוֹתֵן,כט,27 וְלֹא מַיִם כְּשֵׁרִים,ל,28 וְלֹא שְׁאָר דְּבָרִים הַמְעַכְּבִים בִּנְטִילַת יָדַיִם לַסְּעוּדָה.לא אַךְ צָרִיךְ לִטֹּל עַד הַפֶּרֶק לב,29 כְּמוֹ לַסְּעוּדָה, דְּהַיְנוּ עַד חִבּוּר הָאֶצְבָּעוֹת לְכַף הַיָּד, לַסְּבָרָא הָרִאשׁוֹנָה שֶׁבְּסוֹף סִימָן קסא.לג וּכְדֵי לָצֵאת גַּם לַסְּבָרָא הָאַחֲרוֹנָה לד שָׁם – יִקַּח עוֹד מְעַט מַיִם בְּכַפּוֹ וִישַׁפְשֵׁף כַּפּוֹת הַיָּדַיִם זוֹ בְּזוֹ לְנַקּוֹת, לְקַיֵּם "אֶרְחַץ בְּנִקָּיוֹן כַּפָּי".לה

2 In the Talmud, as well,30 [the Sages] cautioned about this spirit of impurity that rests on a person’s hands [upon awakening], saying that it is not removed entirely until he washes them three times,31 alternately.32 They also warned33 that before washing one should not touch his eyes, ears, nose, mouth, anal opening, any place where he has let blood, or his organ — i.e., from the corona and below, or for the purpose of relations. Nor should he touch water that was prepared in a tank to enable all the members of his household to wash, so that his hands will not make it impure. Similarly, when washing his own hands from a container, he should be very careful not to touch the water in the container and make it impure, for water will render hands pure only when it is poured over them.34

One should be especially careful not to touch any food35 or drink36 before washing, so that they will not be rendered impure. Women in particular should be alerted about this, because food is mostly prepared by them.

However, one need not be concerned about non-Jews touching [food without having performed Netilas Yadayim], for this spirit of impurity seeks to rest only in a sacred medium37 in place of the holiness which has departed from it — i.e., the bodies of the Jewish people. When they sleep and their holy soul departs from their bodies,38 the spirit of impurity rests on their bodies; when the soul returns to the body, the spirit of impurity departs from the entire body and remains only on the hands.

For this reason, it has become customary to be lenient with regard to the touch39 of younger children who have not reached an educable age [with regard to the Torah and its mitzvos] — because the major entry of the holy soul into a man40 is completed when he reaches thirteen years and one day, and into a woman, when she reaches twelve. This is why at that time they are obligated by Scriptural Law to observe mitzvos, and are considered to be of punishable age.

The entry of this holy soul begins at the age at which the child begins his training41 in the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos, as is obligated by the Sages.42 ([An earlier phase of this entry begins] with the mitzvah of circumcision.43 Therefore a person who is careful with regard to the touch of an infant from the day of circumcision onward may rightfully be called “holy.”44)

ב וְגַם בַּתַּלְמוּד 30 הִזְהִירוּ עַל רוּחַ הַטֻּמְאָה זוֹ שֶׁשּׁוֹרָה עַל הַיָּדַיִם, וְאָמְרוּ לו שֶׁאֵינָהּ עוֹבֶרֶת לְגַמְרֵי עַד שֶׁיִּטֹּל שָׁלֹשׁ פְּעָמִים,31 בְּסֵרוּגִין.לז, 32 וְגַם הִזְהִירוּ מְאֹד,לח, 33 שֶׁלֹּא לִגַּע בַּיָּד קֹדֶם נְטִילָה: לֹא לָעַיִן, וְלֹא לָאֹזֶן, וְלֹא לַחֹטֶם, וְלֹא לַפֶּה, וְלֹא לְפִי הַטַּבַּעַת, וְלֹא לִמְקוֹם הַקָּזַת דָּם,לט וְלֹא לָאַמָּה, כְּגוֹן מֵעֲטָרָה וּלְמַטָּה מ אוֹ לְצֹרֶךְ זִוּוּג,מא וְלֹא לַמַּיִם שֶׁבַּגִּיגִית מב הַמּוּכָנִים לִנְטִילַת יָדַיִם לְכָל בְּנֵי בֵּיתוֹ, שֶׁלֹּא יְטַמְּאֵם בְּיָדָיו. וְכֵן יִזָּהֵר מְאֹד בִּשְׁעַת נְטִילַת יָדָיו מֵהַכְּלִי, שֶׁלֹּא יִגַּע בַּמַּיִם תּוֹךְ הַכְּלִי וִיטַמְּאֵם, כִּי אֵין הַמַּיִם מְטַהֲרִים הַיָּדַיִם אֶלָּא בִּשְׁפִיכָה.מג, 34 וְכָל שֶׁכֵּן שֶׁצָּרִיךְ לִזָּהֵר מְאֹד, שֶׁלֹּא לִגַּע קֹדֶם נְטִילָה בְּשׁוּם מַאֲכָל מד, 35 אוֹ מַשְׁקֶה,מה, 36 שֶׁלֹּא לְטַמְּאָם. וְצָרִיךְ לְהַזְהִיר הַנָּשִׁים עַל זֶה בְּיוֹתֵר,מו כִּי רֹב תִּקּוּן הַמַּאֲכָלִים הוּא עַל יָדָן.

אֲבָל לִנְגִיעַת הַנָּכְרִים – אֵין לָחוּשׁ,מז כִּי רוּחַ טֻמְאָה זוֹ אֵינָהּ מִתְאַוָּה לִשְׁרוֹת אֶלָּא בִּכְלִי שֶׁל קֹדֶשׁ,מח,37 בִּמְקוֹם קְדֻשָּׁה שֶׁנִּסְתַּלְּקָה מִשָּׁם, שֶׁהֵם גּוּפוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל, כְּשֶׁהֵם יְשֵׁנִים וְנִשְׁמָתָם הַקְּדוֹשָׁה מִסְתַּלֶּקֶת מִגּוּפָם,מט,38 וַאֲזַי רוּחַ הַטֻּמְאָה שׁוֹרָה עַל גּוּפָם, וּכְשֶׁהַנְשָׁמָה חוֹזֶרֶת לַגּוּף – מִסְתַּלֶּקֶת רוּחַ הַטֻּמְאָה מִכָּל הַגּוּף, וְנִשְׁאֶרֶת עַל הַיָּדַיִם בִּלְבַד.

וּמִטַּעַם זֶה נָהֲגוּ לְהָקֵל בִּנְגִיעַת הַקְּטַנִּים 39 שֶׁלֹּא הִגִּיעוּ לְחִנּוּךְ,נ לְפִי שֶׁגְּמַר וְעִקַּר כְּנִיסַת נֶפֶשׁ הַקְּדֻשָּׁה בָּאָדָם,נא,40 הוּא בִּשְׁלֹשׁ עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנִים וְיוֹם אֶחָד לַזָּכָר, וּשְׁתֵּים עֶשְׂרֵה לַנְּקֵבָה, שֶׁלָּכֵן נִתְחַיְּבוּ אָז בְּמִצְוֹת מִן הַתּוֹרָה, וְנַעֲשׂוּ בְּנֵי עֳנָשִׁים. וּתְחִלַּת כְּנִיסַת נֶפֶשׁ זוֹ הַקְּדוֹשָׁה הִיא בְּחִנּוּךְ לְתוֹרָה וּלְמִצְוֹת,נב שֶׁחִיְּבוּ חֲכָמִים 42 לְחַנֵּךְ 41 (גַּם בְּמִצְוַת מִילָה.נג,43 וְלָכֵן, הַנִּזְהָר מִנְּגִיעַת הַקָּטָן מִיּוֹם הַמִּילָה וְאֵילָךְ – קָדוֹשׁ יֵאָמֶר לוֹ).נד,44