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Question: Should a person who only went to sleep after dawn say a berachah after netilat yadayim when he wakes up?

M. Goldman
Miami Beach

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Answer: First, let us answer a simpler question: Why do we do netilat yadayim altogether? The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 4:1, based upon Berachot 60b) writes: “A person should wash his hands [upon awaking in the morning] and say ‘al netilat yadayim.’” (The Rema adds: “Some say that that he should say ‘asher yatzar’ as well even if he did not relieve himself.”)

There is scriptural support for this practice. Psalms (26:6) states: “Erchotz b’nikayon kapai va’a’soveva et mizba’cha’cho Hashem – I wash my hands in purity and circle around your altar, Hashem.” According to the commentators, King David is stressing that before he approaches to serve Hashem, he purifies his hands. We too, therefore, wash our hands every morning upon awakening as we prepare to serve Hashem.

The Mechaber writes: “If a person was awake the entire night, there is reason to doubt the necessity of him washing his hands in the morning.” The Rema adds in the name of the Rosh: “Therefore, he should wash them without reciting a blessing.

The Taz (sk9 “im haya niy’or…”) writes that according to the Rashba (topic 4), we wash our hands because a person’s status in the morning is that of a newly created being. If he did not sleep the entire night, therefore, he obviously is not reckoned as a newly created being in the morning.

Yet, it’s possible that he should wash his hands in the morning nevertheless since netilat yadayim is a practice instituted by our sages who did not distinguish between various classes of people in this context – “lo plug rabbanan b’takanta.”

The Rosh (siman 191) writes that we wash our hands in the morning because “yadayim askaniyot heim – hands are always busy.” Although this axiom is arguably true of people who are awake too (which explains misplaced keys and cell phones), the chances of a person inadvertently touching an unclean part of his body is greater when he’s asleep than when he’s awake.

Thus, according to the Rosh, a person who stayed up all night need not wash his hands in the morning. According to the Rashba, though, writes the Taz, this person should wash his hands since the berachah praising Hashem for returning our soul to us concerns the souls of others too.

Due to doubt, one should wash, but without a blessing. The Rema writes to do so explicitly. Whether the Mechaber agrees is questionable. The Rema may just be explaining the Mechaber’s view or he may be disagreeing with him.

(To be continued)

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.