(c) 2000 Dr Hendel; 1st appeared in Bais Medrash (c) Torah.Org
Date: Sun, 11 Jul 1999 17:42:11 -0400 (EDT)
From: Russell Hendel < firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Rouah Ra`ah / Netilat Yadayim
There was discussion in Volume 1 Number 82 of why we wash our hands in the
morning. Rachamim Pauli mentioned several reasons (Shadim, hands move alot
and e.g. may have picked ones nose etc).
I just wanted to supplement this with the Biblical ROOT for the custom. It
is important to emphasize when learning, that every rabbinic commandment or
custom has some Biblical root.
There seem to be 3 Biblical commandments involved: *Dt 22:13 (& Dt 22:15)
which requires that bathroom functions not be performed anyplace while in
battle but only in designated areas; the reason for this is because our
camp is Holy
Every time we mention Hashem's Name during prayer, we are in a sense re
- -creating the encampment with Hashem's presence in the center. (See Siman
74, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim).
* Nu 15:39-"The prohibition against going astray after our eyes & hearts"
The various prohibitions against seeing members of the opposite sex naked
come from here and apply particularly during times of holy activities such
as prayer and learning.
* Dt 6:4--HEAR Oh Israel, God is our Lord. The word HEAR is taken to
require not just listening but understanding and concentration also.
In fact some of the laws in Rambam, Shma 3 reflect this requirement of
concentration: For example---only "types of excrements that have bad odors"
are prohibited for Shma; you can say Shma opposite animal urine (because of
no bad odor--and because Biblically only during the time of urination is it
prohibited but not otherwise). It would therefore appear that certain of
these laws, besides reflecting the Biblical requirement of "Your camp shall
be holy" also reflects a requirement of being able to concentrate.
According to most opinions washing hands is Rabbinic (Rambam, Blessings
6:2). Washing hands would therefore be symbolic of the Tahara associated
with priestly eating. This would be consistent with the "Your camp is holy"
approach. However there are some sources who take Rachamim Pauli's opinion
that washing hands is because "hands move around alot and may touch hidden
body parts"(E.g.Rambam, Shma 3:1, Rav Kook edition,footnote 1).
What Rachamim told us now acquires deeper meaning---if I picked my nose
during my sleep then while saying Kriath Shma I might be thinking about
whether my hands are soiled and what will happen if I have to shake
someones hand etc. In other words, because of the traditional hand movement
during sleep I might not be able to fulfill the Biblical requirement of
concentration. Thus the washing of hands is a symbolic way of affirming my
need to fully concentrate.
Russell Jay Hendel; Phd ASA
RHendel@Mcs.Drexel.edu; Math & Comp Science