Your table is an altar. You are the high priest. That plate of delicious morsels before you, that’s the sacrifice. You do the ritual washing of hands, say a blessing on the food, and then dig in, to elevate all those carbs and proteins into a divine experience.

So here’s ritual hand washing 101 (a.k.a. netilat yadayim):

  • Do this only before eating a meal with bread or matzah (halachah also requires washing before cake, if it is eaten as a full meal). Bread is considered the staple food of all foods. Potatoes just missed the boat.
  • This may sound strange, but before washing your hands, be sure that they are clean and free of anything that will obstruct the waters from reaching the entire surface of your hands. This is a spiritual experience, you recall. Beyond Pasteur.
  • This is a spiritual experience, you recall. Beyond Pasteur . . .Remove your rings—unless you never remove them, in which case they are considered “part of your hand.”
  • Fill a cup with water and pour twice on your right hand. Repeat on the left. (Lefties: reverse the order.) Chabad custom is to pour three times on each hand. Make sure the water covers your entire hand until the wrist bone with each pour. Separate your fingers slightly to allow the water in between them. Rabbi Chisda says, “Don’t skimp. Fill your hands with water and G‑d will fill them with His goodness.”
  • After washing, lift your hands chest-high and say the following 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.
    בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְווֹתָיו, וְצִוָּנוּ עַל נְטִילַת יָדָיִם
    (Baruch atah A-donay, Elo-heinu Melech Ha'Olam, asher kideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu al netilat yadayim.)
    [Say this blessing only if you intend to eat more than two ounces of bread.]
  • Rub your hands together and then dry them. Be careful not to speak or get involved in anything else until you’ve recited the blessing on your bread and swallowed some too.
  • If you take a washroom break during your meal, or otherwise soil your hands, you need to wash again—this time, without a blessing.