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What is the mystical significance of the morning hand-washing?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg


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“The Torah speaks of the Supernal and merely alludes to the Physical.” This is true not only with Mitzvahs which are of Torah origin, but even Mitzvahs which were instituted by the Rabbis (with Divine intuition), such as Netilat Yadaim, have deep spiritual significance.

G-d created Adam in His own image. Obviously this can not be taken literally, because G-d isn’t physical and has no form whatsoever. Rather, this means that Man’s soul is an exact copy, in microcosm, of his Creator. For example, just as G-d has ten powers with which He creates worlds (Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Kindness, Severity, Compassion, Perseverance, Commitment, Foundation and Royalty), so, too, Man contains these very same soul-powers. Furthermore, since the human body was formed in a manner that it should be compatible with the soul, it too is a physical likeliness of the divine structure, every limb representative of a different Divine function. As Job said, “From my flesh I perceive G-d.”

The two arms represent the divine (and consequently human) traits of Kindness and Severity, the two tools through which we interact with others. These two qualities are intended to be used properly: Kindness, which stems from a feeling of closeness, should lead to loving G-d and being kind to fellow human beings. Severity produces fear and awe of G-d, and is the source of discipline and justice, without which our world would be a madhouse. Both of these attributes, however, must be guarded to ensure that they don’t lead to unpleasant and harmful results. While these characteristics are inherently holy, the Kelipot (forces of anti-divinity) can tap into them and use them for unsavory purposes. For example: Abraham was the personification of Kindness, helping and loving everyone, even pagans who worshipped the dust they trod upon. His son, Ishmael, inherited the attribute of Kindness – but abused it. He was a philandering individual who loved everyone, but for purely selfish purposes. Kindness and love must be used discriminately; it is vital to bear in mind who is being loved and why. Isaac, on the other hand, was the paradigm of Divine Severity; he was an extremely disciplined person who had high expectations of himself and others. He didn’t simply love others, he instead demanded of others that they be worthy of his respect. His son, Esau, also was a severe person, but he took the severity to an extreme, becoming a sadistic hunter and murderer, progenitor of the vicious Roman Empire.

Therefore G-d created the fingernails. Spiritually speaking, the nails guard the attributes of Kindness and Severity, ensuring that the Kelipot (and the human being’s Animal Soul) receive no nourishment from these holy traits.

When the sun rises in the morning after the darkness of night we must wash our hands. The blackness of night represents our required dealings with the mundane world, whereas our service of G-d – prayer, Torah study, and Mitzvahs – is analogous to daylight. After being engrossed in worldly matters it is possible to forget the true objectives of Kindness and Severity, thinking that they are merely instruments of self-aggrandizement. We therefore wash our hands, cleansing our attributes of any and all impurities, and refocusing ourselves and redirecting all our faculties and senses to the pure service of G-d.


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Why not have long fingernails?

Posted by: Anonymous, Birmingham, AL on Sep 11, 2005

Since G-d created the fingernails. Spiritually speaking, the nails guard the attributes of Kindness and Severity, ensuring that the Kelipot (and the human being’s Animal Soul) receive no nourishment from these holy traits.

Would long fingernails be a better guard the Animal Soul receiving nourishment from the holy traits?

Editor's Comment

No. According to kabbalah, only the fingernail which sits atop the finger is productive. The part of the nail which protrudes beyond the finger is actually connecred to the kelipot, and should be pared.
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Second of the three Jewish Patriarchs, son of Abraham and Sarah. Lived in Canaan (Israel); b. 1712 BCE, d. 1532 BCE.
Rogue son of Patriarch Isaac and Matriarch Rebecca. Elder twin of Patriarch Jacob.
Son of the Patriarch Abraham and half-brother of Patriarch Isaac. Ancestor of many Arab tribes.
The first man, created by G-d on the sixth day of creation. He was banished from the Garden of Eden after eating from the forbidden fruit of the forbidden knowledge. Died in 2830 BCE.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.