Halacha for Tuesday 19 Sivan 5777 June 13 2017

Getting Dressed Before Washing One’s Hands in the Morning

Question: Must one wash one’s hands in the morning (“Netilat Yadayim”) immediately upon awakening from one’s sleep or may one first get dressed and organized and only then wash one’s hands?

Answer: In the past, we have explained the general obligation for one to wash one’s hands upon waking up in the morning by washing first the right hand and then the left and repeating this process three times.

One should wash one’s hands specifically using a vessel and not solely by washing one’s hands from the faucet.

We shall now discuss whether one must wash one’s hands immediately upon waking up or perhaps, one may postpone washing one’s hands for a short while.

The Opinion of the Mekubalim that One Should Wash his Hands as Soon as Possible
We have explained previously (the second reason for why one must wash one’s hands in the morning) that according to the holy Zohar and subsequently all of the Mekubalim who follow it, an evil spirit rests on one’s hands upon awakening from one’s sleep, for sleep is a small portion of death. This evil spirit remains on one’s hands until one washes his hands according to Halacha. The holy Zohar (Bereshit, 53b) adds that this impure spirit also rests on anything one who has just awoken from one’s sleep touches, including utensils, clothing, food items, and beverages. The Mekubalim therefore warned that one must wash one’s hands immediately upon awakening. There were several pious and upstanding individuals who would customarily leave a vessel filled with water next to their bed and they would use it wash their hands in the morning, immediately upon awakening, while still on their beds. The Yalkut Yosef writes that Hagaon Harav Shmuel Salant zt”l, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, was very meticulous regarding this issue.

The Opinion of the Poskim that One Need Not be Concerned About this Evil Spirit Nowadays
Nevertheless, practically speaking, many fine and worthy individuals customarily wash their hands only after getting dressed and the reason they are not concerned about the opinion of the holy Zohar is because the evil spirit that was commonplace during the times of the Sages of the Talmud is no longer in full-force in our times similar to the majority of the other auspicious and mystical matters which, as the generations progressed, lost much of their power, as is the case with all spiritual powers which are not as strong as they once were during the previous generations. Hagaon Maharshal (Rabbeinu Shlomo Luria) in his Yam Shel Shlomo (Chullin, Chapter 31) writes likewise that nowadays, one need not worry about this evil spirit any longer (we have already mentioned his words elsewhere) and thus, we are not so particular regarding this matter. Only regarding touching food items and beverages do we say that one should be careful not to touch them before washing one’s hands in the morning.

The Opinion of the Ben Ish Hai and the Discussion that Ensues
Rabbeinu Yosef Haim, author of Ben Ish Hai, also writes in his Od Yosef Hai (which was printed after his passing) that the reason we are not careful to wash our hands immediately upon awakening is because this evil spirit does not rest on vessels or clothing; rather, it only rests on food items and beverages.

Hagaon Harav Yitzchak Nissim zt”l, Chief Rabbi of Israel, questions the opinion of the Ben Ish Hai in his Sefer Yen Ha’Tov based on the words of the holy Zohar which states clearly that this evil spirit rests on vessels and clothing and not only on food items and beverages. He therefore concludes that some student added his own opinions to the words of the Ben Ish Hai after his passing and thus, one may not rely on such rulings that were published after his passing.

Nevertheless, Maran zt”l disagreed with this view, as we know that the Sefer Od Yosef Hai was printed by Hagaon Harav Ben-Zion Hazzan zt”l, a dedicated member of the Ben Ish Hai’s household and caretaker of Yeshivat Porat Yosef, who was known to be a righteous and honest Torah scholar and would never falsify the words of his teacher, Hagaon Rabbeinu Yosef Haim. In the years he was in Yeshivat Porat Yosef, he would sit with the Yeshiva’s students, among them Maran zt”l, and would recount at length amazing stories about the holy ways the great Ben Ish Hai would conduct himself, and by doing so, he would instill fear of Heaven in the hearts of all of his listeners. It must be that the basis for the opinion of the Ben Ish Hai is because nowadays, this evil spirit is much weaker, as we have explained. Thus, halachically speaking, one may postpone washing his hands until after he gets dressed.

Summary: One may get dressed in the morning before washing one’s hands. Pious and upstanding individuals would wash their hands immediately upon awakening as an added measure of purity (nevertheless, one should be careful not to touch one’s eyes or any other of the body’s orifices before washing one’s hands). Similarly, some are customarily careful not to walk four Amot (approximately 6.5 feet) before washing their hands. According to the letter of the law, however, this is also not obligatory.

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