Netilas Yadaim In The Morning (Part 1)

1. The Sages enacted that every morning upon waking up one should wash his hands and recite the blessing al netilas yadaim. (Brachos 15.)

2. The Rishonim offer two reasons for this obligation: 1) The Rosh (Brachos 9:23 and Shu”t 4:1) writes that it is inevitable that while one is sleeping he will come in contact with areas of the body that are unclean and sweaty, rendering the hands unclean and unfit for prayer. Therefore, in order to allow us to pray shachris we wash our hands and recite a bracha. 2) The Rashba (Shu”t 1:191) offers a different reason for the enactment. He maintains that every morning when G-d returns our souls we are new beings and creations ready to begin serving Hashem. Explains the Rashba, just as kohanim needed to wash their hands in order to sanctify themselves before performing their service in the Beis Hamikdash, so too we must wash our hands before beginning our daily service of G-d. For normative halacha the accepted view is to wash one’s hands if either the Rosh or the Rashba deem it necessary, however, we only recite a blessing if the washing is required by both the Rosh and the Rashba. (see Ortzos Hachaim 4:1)

3. The poskim offer a third reason for the Netilas Yadayim in the morning and that is because the Gemara stated that an evil spirit (ruach ra’ah) rests on one’s hands in the morning and it can only be removed by washing the hands three times in succession (Shabbos 108a and Tur 4). This third reason for washing on it’s own does not require a blessing. The Mishnah Berurah (4:8) adds that while we take this reason into account and do our best to remove the evil spirit, the Sages would not have created an enactment requiring Netilas Yadayim just to remove the ruach ra’ah. Rather, the real reason for the enactment is that of the Rosh and Rashba.

4. Women must also wash their hands in the morning before davening.

וראיתי בשו”ת מחזה אליהו ח”א סימן י”א שביאר שכיון שהחיוב נטילה חל משות תפלת שחרית, לא מיבעיא לדעת הרא”ש שכל החיוב הוא משום תפלת י”ח אלא גם לדעת הרשב”א אין נוטל אלא לתפלת שחרית וכמו שהבאנו לעיל מחיי אדם, וא”כ נמצא שלא יברכו על נטילת ידים אלא א”כ מתפללת תפלת י”ח או עכ”פ קרית שמע, אבל אשה היוצאת ידי חובת תפלתה בברכות השחר או בשאר בקשות תיטול ידיה אבל לא תברך. אכן שוב מצאתי בספר אשי ישראל פרק ב’ סכ”ט שכתב בלשון זה: “גם נשים יכולות לברך ברכת על נטילת ידים בשחרית, ואפילו אם הן אינן מתפללת, ורק מסתפקות בתפילה ובקשה קצרה”. וביאר שם בהגה דאם האשה מתפללת ק”ש ושמו”ע ודאי יכולה לברך, דהרי ברכת ענט”י נתקן לתפילה, (עיין ערוך השלחן ס’ ד’ סע’ ה’-ו’) ועיין מג”א סי’ ו’ ס”ק ח’ דגם כשאומרת רק ברכות השחר עד ברכת הגומל חסדים טובים נחשב הברכות במקום תפילה שיכולה לברך תחילה ענט”י (עיין ערוך השלחן סימן ו’ סעי’ י’). ואפי’ אם הנשים יוצאת יד”ח מצוות התפילה בתפילה קצרה בלבד, ג”כ יכולות לברך ברכת ענט”יּ הואיל ותפילה קצרה זו נחשבת אצלם מה”ת כתפילה הוי נטילה זו כנטילה לתפלה, ויש עוד לצרף בזה את דעת הב”ח סי’ ד’ סוד”ה וידקדק, דברכת ענט”י מברך על מנהגו של עולם ולכן נשים ועמי הארצות שאינם קורים ק”ש ואינם מתפללים מברכים ענט”י. וע”ע בשו”ת תשובות והנהגות ח”א ס’ ע”ב ומה שכתב בזה. ושוב ראיתי במשנה ברורה ס”ק י’ שכתב שיש להזהיר הנשים לרחוץ ידיה להסיר מעליהם הרוח רעה ע”ש.

5. The Chida(Avodas Hakodesh Moreh Etzbah 2:60) writes that one should ensure that his young children wash their hands in the morning in order to remove the ruach ra’ah that rests on their hands (third reason cited above). This view is cited by many authorities, including the Pri Megadim and the Mishnah Berurah. There is a difference of opinions at what age children should be taught to wash their hands in the morning: 1) The Shulchan Aruch Harav writes that the common custom is that one begins washing the children’s hands at the age of chinuch. [The age of chinuch is subjective based upon the intellect and maturity of each child. The age of chinuch in this regard is from when the child begins to understand the concept of washing hands to remove impurity. Every child is different in this regard. see Mishnah Berurah 343:3] However, he adds that one who is diligent to wash the hands of his son from time he is circumcised “is called holy”. Harav Yaakov Emden zt”l (in his siddur) likewise writes that the common custom is to be lenient with children under the age of chinuch, however, he advises that one be strict to wash the hands of younger boys from the time of their circumcision. The Aishel Avraham of Botchetch also maintains that children under the age of chinuch need not wash their hands. 2) Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l in Emes Leyaacov is quoted as ruling that once a child is old enough to recite a verse from the Torah or answer Amen to a berachah, the parents should make sure that that his hands are washed properly. 3) The Ben Ish Chai (Toldos 10) writes the following, “One should remind his wife that every day she should wash her children’s hands. even if they are infants who still breast feed, since there are times that they come in contact with food we do not want [the ruach ra’ah that rests on their hands] to contaminate the food. In addition, it is a segulah that the children will grow up with purity and become holy Jews.” 4) The Rebbe Rashab zt”l of Lubavitch wrote, in his last will and testament, that one is to be careful to begin washing child’s hand starting from when the child is no longer in diapers (Ishkavta D’Rebbi page 137).

Harav Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg zt”l (Tzitz Eliezer 7:2) discusses the aforementioned question at length and he concludes that the obligation to wash the children’s hands begins at the age of chinuch. Before the child has reached the age of chinuch there is no obligation, yet it is praiseworthy to wash their hands in the morning. However, if the child is unhappy and does not want his or her hands washed it is permissible to occasionally forgo the netilas yadayim.


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