Halacha for Wednesday 20 Sivan 5777 June 14 2017

One Who Awakens in the Morning and Needs to Use the Restroom

By popular request: If one awakens in the morning and needs to use the restroom, should one first wash one’s hands, recite the blessing of “Al Netilat Yadayim”, and only then use the restroom or should one postpone washing one’s hands until after using the facilities?

Answer: Clearly, if one needs to use the restroom and cannot suppress this urge for a little more than an hour (meaning the time it takes to walk one “Parsah,” i.e. seventy-two minutes), one cannot recite any words of holiness, including the “Al Netilat Yadayim” blessing, until one relieves himself. We must therefore deal with two issues. Firstly, we must discuss the Halacha in a situation where one needs to use the restroom but can suppress this urge for seventy-two minutes; should one first wash one’s hands, recite the blessing, and only then relieve himself? Secondly, if one cannot suppress the urge to use the restroom for seventy-two minutes, should one first wash one’s hands without reciting the blessing, relieve himself, and then recite the blessing of “Al Netilat Yadayim” or is it preferable to postpone the entire “Netilat Yadayim” process until after he relieves himself?

In the previous Halacha, we have mentioned that according to the letter of the law, one need not wash one’s hands immediately upon awakening in the morning and one may first get dressed and only then wash his hands. Thus, clearly, if one needs to use the restroom with such urgency that one cannot suppress the urge for seventy-two minutes, one must act as per the letter of the law and first relieve himself and only then wash his hands and recite the blessing of “Al Netilat Yadayim” followed by the “Asher Yatzar” blessing. The Mishnah Berura writes likewise that although according to the holy Zohar one must wash his hands as soon as possible, nevertheless, one may not, G-d-forbid, transgress an actual prohibition by not relieving one’s self so as to wash one’s hands as soon as possible; rather, one should first relieve himself and only then wash one’s hands.

Regarding one who needs to use the restroom but can suppress the urge to do so for seventy-two minutes, some say such an individual should wash his hands immediately upon waking up but he should not recite a blessing on this hand-washing; he should then use the facilities, wash his hands a second time, and then recite the blessings of “Al Netilat Yadayim” and “Asher Yatzar”. Hagaon Mishnah Berura rules accordingly and writes that in order to fulfill all opinions, one must wash one’s hands immediately upon awakening and not recite a blessing, use the restroom, and then wash his hands once again and recite the blessings of “Al Netilat Yadayim” and “Asher Yatzar”. One who follows this opinion surely has on whom to rely.

Nevertheless, the Rambam writes in one of his responses (Pe’er HaDor, Chapter 104) that one may only recite the blessing of “Al Netilat Yadayim” immediately following the hand-washing and if one recites it at a later time, one will have recited a blessing in vain. Based on this, if one follows the opinion of the Mishnah Berura, one should be concerned that he may be reciting a blessing in vain, for this individual has already washed his hands once before and when he now washes his hands a second time, this is not the hand-washing appropriate to the blessing of “Al Netilat Yadayim” as this is no longer the “morning” “Netilat Yadayim” for which our Sages instituted the blessing of “Al Netilat Yadayim”. Thus, some say that one should first wash one’s hands, recite the blessing, and only then use the restroom.

The custom of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l is that, in any event, one should first use the restroom immediately upon waking up and only afterwards wash his hands and recite the blessings of “Al Netilat Yadayim” and “Asher Yatzar”, for according to the letter of the law, there is nothing wrong with getting dressed before washing one’s hands and there is certainly nothing wrong with using the facilities before washing one’s hands. Thus, one should first relieve himself and only then wash his hands and recite the blessing, as prescribed by Halacha.

Summary: If one awakens in the morning and needs to use the restroom, if one cannot suppress this urge for seventy-two minutes, one should immediately use the restroom and only then proceed to wash his hands and recite the blessing of “Al Netilat Yadayim” followed by the “Asher Yatzar” blessing. If, however, he can suppress this urge to use the facilities for seventy-two minutes, some say one should first wash one’s hands without reciting a blessing, proceed to use the restroom, and then wash one’s hands once again and recite the blessing of “Al Netilat Yadayim”. Some customarily wash their hands with a blessing and then use the restroom. Others say that no matter what, one should use the restroom first and only then proceed to wash one’s hands and recite the blessings of “Al Netilat Yadayim” and “Asher Yatzar”.

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