Reasons for Washing in the Morning

What are the reasons for the entire procedure of washing three times with a cup in the morning? Is it sufficient just to wash hands as regular in the bathroom?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

There are three different reasons that we must wash our hands in the morning.

(1) Most likely a person’s hands are dirty when he rises from his sleep, having touched or scratched parts of his body which are usually covered and the like. Thus, to say the morning prayers, he must clean his hands.

(2) Just as the Priests were required to wash their hands (and feet) before they began their day of service in the Temple, so must we before we begin our new day of serving God.

(3) A spirit of impurity (ruach ra’ah) descends upon a person during the night, and this must be washed off in a special manner. This is either caused by the nighttime itself – whether or not the person slept, or it is caused by sleeping (for a minimum of 30 minutes) – whether a person sleeps during the night or the day.

It’s interesting to note that based on the first reason it would be sufficient just to clean the hands from the sink. A cup would not be necessary. According to the second reason, a cup should be used – just as the Priests would wash their hands from the laver, but one time would be sufficient.

However, based on the third reason, we must wash three times on each hand, alternating between our hands. For Kabbalistic reasons, this is the only method which properly purges the impurity. Note also that according to some, this reason applies even if a person sleeps (for 30+ minutes) in a sitting position and during the daytime. Any sleep of sufficient time causes impurity. The blessing, however, is only said once a day after rising in the morning.

Because of this impurity, a person should not touch food or any of the openings of his bodies (such as his eyes or mouth) before washing.

Some wash each hand a fourth time. The reason is because although a person’s hands themselves become clean after three washings, the remaining water itself is still impure and should be washed away with an additional pour.

See this article for more details about washing in the morning.

(Sources: Shulchan Aruch O.C. 4:1-3,5,12-14, Mishna Berurah 1,8,10-12,14,28,31, Laws of Daily Living Vol. 1 (ArtScroll), pp. 2-6.)

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