This is what you should meditate on [when rinsing the fingertips]:

The initials of the words for "after-water" [in Hebrew, "mayim acharonim"] are mem-alef, as are the initial and final letters of the word for "after" [in Hebrew, "acharonim"] itself. [The numerical value of mem-alef is forty-one.] Align the first mem-alef with the forty-one letters in the name Eh-yeh spelled out with the letter yud, and the second mem-alef with the forty-one letters in this name spelled out with the letter alef.

The name Eh-yeh (spelled alef-hei-yud-hei) can be spelled out either with yuds or with alefs. Two iterations of the spelling-out process yield a total of 41 letters in each case (4 for the name itself, 10 for the first spelling out, and 27 for the spelling out of the spelling out):

 alef alef alef alef alef alef lamed lamed pei pei lamed lamed lamed lamed mem mem dalet dalet pei pei pei pei alef alef hei hei hei hei hei hei yud alef yud yud alef alef vav lamed dalet pei yud yud yud yud yud yud vav vav dalet dalet vav vav vav vav yud alef vav vav dalet dalet dalet dalet lamed lamed tav tav hei hei hei hei hei hei yud alef yud yud alef alef vav lamed dalet pei

Intend to remove and banish the "other side" from the table by means of these two sets of 41, so that it not take any more than its rightful portion.

Meditate on this idea in the context of the form of your own hand….

Meditate on this idea in the context of the form of your own hand, as follows: Consider the four fingers of your right hand together and the thumb by itself. There are ten letters associated with each finger, and one associated with the thumb. This gives a total of 41, for the forty-one letters of the name Eh-yeh spelled out with the letter yud. Follow the same pattern with the five fingers of your left hand for the forty-one letters of the name Eh-yeh spelled out with the letter alef.

Meditate thus as your fingers are pointed downward. As is known, when rinsing the fingertips after the meal, one should point the fingers downward.

I found in my notes another, slightly different meditation. According to this, you should associate your right thumb with the four letters of the simple spelling of the name [Eh-yeh]. Since the thumb is the chief and best finger, the letters of the name proper are associated with it. Then associate your other four fingers with the letters of the spelling out and the spelling out of the spelling out using the letter yud. Associate as well the four letters of the name Eh-yeh and the ten letters of the [first] spelling out (a total of fourteen letters) with the fourteen joints of the five fingers of your hand.

In a similar fashion, associate the [letters of the] name Eh-yeh spelled out with the letter alef with the fingers of your left hand.

Each of the four fingers has three joints and the thumb has two: (4 x 3) + 2 = 14.

According to the prayerbook with the commentary of Rabbi Shabsi of Rashkov:

 . right hand left hand thumb alef-hei-yud-hei alef-hei-yud-hei first finger alef-lamed-pei and the second iteration of each letter alef-lamed-pei and the second iteration of each letter second finger hei-yud and the second iteration of each letter hei-alef and the second iteration of each letter third finger yud-vav-dalet and the second iteration of each letter yud-vav-dalet and the second iteration of each letter fourth finger hei-yud and the second iteration of each letter hei-alef and the second iteration of each letter

Based on this you can understand the statement of our sages that washing the fingertips after the meal is an obligation, for the numerical value of the word for "obligation" [in Hebrew, "chovah"] is the same as that of the name Eh-yeh.

Chovah: chet-vav-beit-hei, 8 + 6 +2 + 5 = 21

Eh-yeh: alef-hei-yud-hei, 1 + 5 + 10 + 5 = 21

The mystical meaning of this statement is thus that when washing the fingertips after the meal one must meditate on the name Eh-yeh [as we have said].

Now, one should not make any interruption between rinsing the fingertips and reciting Grace after meals. I [Chaim Vital] was once with my master [the Arizal] and someone came to me and said that he had been suffering from severe shoulder pains for two days. My master looked at him and said that this pain came from his having made an interruption between rinsing the fingertips and reciting Grace after meals by studying a chapter of the Mishna. He thus transgressed the instruction of our sages to proceed directly from the rinsing to the blessing (Berachot 42a). In so doing, he transmuted the word for "directly" [in Hebrew, "teikef", spelled tav-kaf-pei] into the word for "shoulder" [in Hebrew, "kateif", spelled kuf-tav-pei], and he felt the pain there.

One must not make any interruption between the rinsing and the recital of Grace….

From this we see that one must not make any interruption between the rinsing and the recital of Grace, even with words from the Torah. If one wishes to converse [at his table] in the Torah, as our sages have said one should, he should do so before the rinsing of the fingertips.

By not allowing any interruption between rinsing the fingertips and the recitation of Grace, the individual demonstrates that they form one conceptual unit, that is, the spiritual meaning of the former is also that of the latter.

Nonetheless, one should recite the following verses after rinsing the fingertips, before beginning the Grace after meals: the entire Psalm 67, and then the verse, "I will bless G‑d at all times; His praise is always in my mouth" . This is because the "other side" hovers over the table, as we have said, and it is called "at all times", as in the verse, "He must not come into the sanctuary at all times" .

The Torah commands that the High Priest not enter the Holy of Holies whenever he wants ("at all times"), but rather only on the day of Yom Kippur. In this context, the phrase "at all times" is seen as something that prevents one from entering the realm of holiness. Reciting the verse "I will bless G‑d at all times" is thus seen as a formula that neutralizes the power of evil present at the table.

On Yom Kippur…the evil that can potentially become empowered through the process of eating is not operative….

It is interesting to note that on Yom Kippur, the one day when the Torah allows the High Priest to enter the inner sanctum of the Temple, is a total fast day. On this day, of course, the evil that can potentially become empowered through the process of eating is not operative.

In order to remove [the evil] from there [i.e. the table], one must recite [the Invitation to Recite Grace, i.e.] "Bring us [the goblet] and we will bless", as is stated in the story of the young child in the Zohar. We therefore recite the verse "I will bless G‑d at all times…" in case a person is eating by himself and cannot say "Bring us and we will bless".

One should then say: "Ultimately, all is known: fear G‑d and observe His commandments, for this is the whole purpose of man".

Then, one should say: "My mouth will utter the praise of G‑d, and let all flesh praise His holy Name forever" , "And we will bless G‑d from now to all eternity. Praise G‑d" (ibid. 115:18), and "And he said to me, this is the table that is before G‑d". Only then should he commence Grace after meals.

The common denominator of all these verses is that the person saying them is declaring his wish to orient his consciousness toward the divine dimension of eating rather than its worldly, material aspects. As such, these verses do not constitute a thematic interruption between the rinsing of the fingertips and the recitation of Grace.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Shaar HaMitzvot, parashat Ekev; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.