Friday, August 1, 2008

Keeping Those Hands Clean

Some people wash their hands obsessively, while others are careful to use hand sanitizer. Still others opt to skip the sink and soap completely. For the “clean freaks” among us, perhaps the "Employees must wash hands" sign is disturbing. After all, what about everyone else?

Jewish law strongly recommends washing one’s hands after using the facilities and before eating (especially when eating bread). Hygienic? Certainly. But in this case, water is used to remove “spiritual impurities” that come upon the hands from touching certain body parts or due to general contact with a not-so-clean, physical world (a Kabbalistic idea).

Jews are charged to strive for a level of holiness (Leviticus 19:2), which is accomplished through preparing for, and participating in, holy activities. Washing one’s hands before eating turns eating into a holy act (“We eat to live!” - Proverbs 13:25). Washing after leaving the restroom enables one to properly participate in a holy act. Many people also wash their hands before prayer. The significance is obvious.

In the first two examples we’ve cited, the washing of hands is followed immediately by the recitation of a blessing. The washing and the blessing help us recognize that food is a gift of God and acknowledge God’s role in allowing our body to function properly.

Copyright © 2008 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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