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Why the difference between the morning hand washing, and before eating bread?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg


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In order to answer your question it is necessary to examine the reason we wash our hands in the morning and the reason we wash our hands before we eat bread.

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

1. We assume that during the night the hands touched the 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).
2. 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 before his daily service (Shalos Utshuvos HaRashba vol. 1 ch. 191).
3. 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 netilat yadayim (Zohar Parshat Vayeshev 184b; also mentioned in the Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 109a).

According to the first reason it is unnecessary to have water poured onto the hands (according to the second opinion it is necessary that the water should come from a vessel - similar to the kiyor which was a vessel). And according to both of the first two reasons there certainly is no reason to wash our hands three times. However, the the only way to rid the hands of the ruach hatumah is by washing each hand three times intermittently.

There is a Torah commandment that when one has a harvest of wheat, wine or olive oil, a small percentage is given as Terumah (a "separation") to the kohen. Terumah must be kept pure and the kohen who eats it must be pure. Since a person's hands are active and might have come in contact with something unclean or impure, the kohen must wash his/her1 hands before consuming terumah. This applies only to bread; for olive oil and wine are not generally eaten directly with the hands.

In order to keep us ready for the time when we will once again be eating terumah - with the coming of our righteous Messiah, our rabbis instituted that all of us wash our hands before eating any bread.

The problem is that when washing hands to purify them, the hands become pure but the water becomes impure. We therefore pour water on the hands again in order to purify the first waters. For Chabad the custom is to pour water a third time just in case the second waters didn't reach all the first waters. There is no reason here to wash intermittently.

It is necessary to have the water poured from a vessel because (just like the washing of the morning) the rabbis compared this washing to the washing by the kiyor (or the water of the parah adumah which also required a vessel).

However, if you have a Kosher Mikvah (or river, stream, lake or ocean) you can dip your hands in there (once) and that is enough for eating bread. The morning washing, on the other hand, only works if water is poured on the hands three times intermittently, as mentioned earlier.

[Ed. note: you may also want to read: "Why do we wash our hands before eating bread?"]


  • 1. The family of a Kohen shares many of his privleges. So although they do not participate in the Temple Service, the wife and (unwed) daughter of a Kohen do eat terumah.


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Daily Life » Eating

(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
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.
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Literally means "fit." Commonly used to describe foods which are permitted by Jewish dietary laws, but is also used to describe religious articles (such as a Torah scroll or Sukkah) which meet the requirements of Jewish law.
A ritual bath where one immerses to become spiritually pure. After her menstrual cycle, a woman must immerse in the Mikvah before resuming marital relations.
Chabad, an acronym for Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding, is the name of a Chassidic Group founded in the 1770s. Two of the most fundamental teachings of Chabad are the intellectual pursuit of understanding the divine and the willingness to help every Jew who has a spiritual or material need.
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.
The tithe given to the priest (descendant of Aaron) from certain crops. The tithe was approximately 2% of the harvest.
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.