Blessing After Washing for Bread

I noticed that whenever we wash our hands – both in the morning and before eating bread – we make the blessing “al netilat yadayim” after washing. But don’t we always make blessings before doing a mitzvah rather than after?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Yes, it’s a very good observation. This is one of the few exceptions to the principle that we recite the blessing first and then perform the mitzvah. The reason is practical. Since very often a person has dirty hands before he washes them, he is not in a proper state to recite a blessing. Thus, the custom developed that the blessing be recited after doing the action – even in cases where the person’s hands happen not to be dirty beforehand.

The blessing should be recited immediately after washing, even before drying the hands. This way, the person blesses while he is still involved in the mitzvah. If however, the person already dried his hands, he can still recite the blessing – since again, the custom in this case is to say this blessing after.

The other exception to this rule is similar – immersing in a mikvah. There too the blessing cannot be recited if the person is unclean beforehand. Also, in the case of a person in the process of conversion, he cannot possibly bless the God who commanded him in immersing since before he is Jewish he has no such command.

See also here for more detailed instructions how to wash for bread for the meal:

(Sources: Talmud Brachot 51a, Rashi s.v. “hatam”, Tos. s.v. “mai’ikara”, Shulchan Aruch O.C. 158:11 with Rema, Mishna Berurah 44.)

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