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Why do we ritually wash our hands in the morning?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg


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There are three explanations why the rabbis instituted to wash our hands when we wake up in the morning:

a. We assume that the hands, which are always occupied, touched private (or sweaty) parts of the body; therefore they must be washed before we pray (Rosh, Brachos 9:23 and Rambam, Laws of Tefillah 4:1).

b. Every morning when G-d returns the soul to the person, it is as if the person is created anew. We, therefore, have to sanctify ourselves before we start our service of G-d just like a kohen (priest - descendant of Aaron) in the Holy Temple would wash his hands from the kiyor (a special Temple washing vessel) before his daily service (Shalos Utshuvos HaRashba vol. 1 ch. 191).

c. According to Kabbalah, when the soul departs the body at night, the body is occupied by a ruach hatumah (spirit of impurity). When the person awakens and the soul returns, the ruach hatumah leaves the entire body but remains in the hands until the wrists. The only way to remove this ruach hatumah is by washing netilas yadayim (Zohar Parshat Vayeshev 184b).


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washing hands

Posted by: Anonymous, Germany on Jan 27, 2007

but then it would mean that if i take a nap in the after noon i also have to wash my hands afterwards?

Editor's Comment

Depending on the length of the nap, that is correct.
The most basic work of Jewish mysticism. Authored by Rabbi Shimeon bar Yochai in the 2nd century.
Jewish mysticism. The word Kaballah means "reception," for we cannot physically perceive the Divine, we merely study the mystical truths which were transmitted to us by G-d Himself through His righteous servants.
Prayer. The Jewish Sages instituted three daily prayers, and an additional prayer on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.
Brother of Moses. First High Priest of Israel and progenitor of all Kohanim (priests) until this very day. Died in the year 1272 b.c.e.
Acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, widely known as Maimonides. Born in Spain in 1135, died in Egypt in 1204. Noted philosopher and authority on Jewish law. Also was an accomplished physician and was the personal doctor for members of the Egyptian royalty. Interred in Tiberius, Israel.
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
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.