5. The Time to Recite Al Netilat Yadayim
The correct time to recite the "Al netilat yadayim" berachah is immediately after washing and before drying one’s hands. However, the general rule regarding all berachot recited upon the performance of mitzvot, is to recite the berachah first and then perform the mitzvah. Hence, we make a berachah on the wrapping of tefillin before binding them on our arms, and we make a berachah on the mezuzah before affixing it to the doorpost. Yet, regarding Al netilat yadayim the law is different. Since it is inappropriate to recite the berachah while one’s hands are unclean, its recital is delayed until after the washing. Still, we may not separate the berachah from the act of the mitzvah and therefore, immediately after washing, before drying one’s hands, the berachah must be recited.
In actuality, the berachah is usually not recited immediately following the first washing upon waking. This is because people generally need to relieve themselves upon waking up, and one should not recite a berachah while having to tend to one’s bodily needs. Furthermore, according to the Rosh, the washing was instituted to prepare the person for prayer; therefore, one is obligated to recite a berachah on the washing before praying. Hence, after relieving oneself in the morning, one washes his hands again and recites the berachah before drying them. One who does not need to relieve himself in the morning should recite the berachah on the first washing immediately upon waking up (Shulchan Aruch 6:2; Mishnah Berurah 4:4). 2
Regarding one who rises from his sleep long before he intends to pray, and knows for certain that prior to praying he will need to defecate, there is uncertainty concerning when it is proper to recite Al netilat yadayim. According to the Rashba, who maintains that one washes in honor of the new day, it is proper that he recite the berachah immediately upon waking up. According to the Rosh, who maintains that the washing was instituted as preparation for prayer, he should recite the berachah on the washing right before prayer. In this case, it is advisable to recite Birkot HaShachar immediately following the washing performed upon rising, and then, to a certain extent, Birkot HaShachar will be considered the beginning of prayer and the washing a preparation for them. That way, even according to the Rosh one may recite Al netilat yadayim immediately upon waking up.
Therefore, whoever wakes up after chatzot (halachic midnight) must wash his hands, recite Al netilat yadayim, and say all of Birkot HaShachar. However, if, after remaining awake for a few hours, he intends to go back to sleep until the time to pray arrives, after waking up the first time he must wash his hands without a berachah, and after the second time he must wash with a berachah, for that is the waking closest to prayer. (Regarding Birkot HaShachar see further in this book 9:5, where it is explained that it is preferable to recite them after the main waking, provided that it is after chatzot.) 3
6. Hand Washing Following Daytime Sleep
There is uncertainty regarding what precisely causes the ruach ra’ah to linger on one’s hands. Is it the mere state of sleep, when a person’s consciousness abandons him and he is left without the ability to function, requiring even one who sleeps during the day to wash his hands three times upon awakening to remove the ruach ra’ah. Or, is it brought about by the night, when the entire world ceases its activities, and therefore even a person who was awake all night must wash his hands three times?
In practice, when both causes intertwine and someone sleeps at night a regular sleep (approximately half an hour), the ruach ra’ah rests upon him in full force. In such a case, immediately upon rising one must hurry to wash his hands three times and refrain from touching his bodily orifices or food prior to that washing. (Still, the berachah on this washing is only recited before Shacharit, as explained in halachah 5.)
It is proper for one who slept a regular sleep during the day to be stringent and wash his hands three times alternately, but it is unnecessary for him to rush to do so. Also, there is no prohibition forbidding him from touching his bodily orifices before he washes. 4
Additionally, it is best that one who remained awake all night wash his hands three times at alot hashachar. Likewise, it is proper for a person who arose in the middle of the night and already washed his hands three times when he woke up to wash his hands alternately again when alot hashachar arrives, for perhaps the night itself and its cessation induce the ruach ra’ah. 5
7. Waking in the Middle of the Night to Tend to a Baby or for Any Other Reason
Parents who wake up in the middle of the night in order to cover their children or give them a pacifier, in principle need not wash their hands because covering a child or putting a pacifier in his mouth does not require touching the child’s mouth or any other bodily orifice.
However, if one wakes up to prepare food for the child or change the child’s diaper, it is proper to wash one’s hands prior to that, in order not to touch food or one of the child's bodily orifices with unwashed hands. Likewise, it is proper that a woman who wakes up in the middle of the night to nurse her child wash her hands before starting. However, if it is very difficult for her to go wash her hands, she may rely on the lenient opinions that do not obligate one who awakens in the middle of the night to wash his or her hands (Eshel Avraham Butshatsh 4:1; see also halachah 4 which mentions that some say that nowadays the ruach ra’ah does not exist). In any case, according to all opinions, no berachah is recited on washing performed in the middle of the night because the Chachamim instituted a berachah only on the morning washing, which prepares us for prayer and the new day.
L'chatchilah it is proper that a person who wakes up in the middle of the night to drink wash his hands three times before reciting Shehakol. Similarly, it is proper that one who wakes up in the middle of the night to relieve himself wash his hands three times so that he can touch his bodily orifices without concern. After relieving himself, he must wash his hands so that he may recite Asher Yatzar. If he wishes, he may refrain from washing his hands prior to relieving himself in the middle of the night, by relying on the opinion of those poskim who maintain that a person only needs to wash his hands three times after rising in the morning. However, after relieving himself, he must wash his hands in order to recite Asher Yatzar. If he does not have water, he must clean his hands, for example by rubbing them on his shirt, and then recite Asher Yatzar (Shulchan Aruch 4:22). 6
The essential objective of the morning washing before Shacharit is cleanliness, as it is written (Psalms 26:6), "I wash my hands clean," and this is clarified in Berachot 15a. The reason for washing one’s hands before a meal is for purification and sanctification, similar to the washing of the Kohanim’s hands in the Kiyor (laver) before they worked in the Temple. Although there is a difference between the objectives of the two washings, the Chachamim instituted the washing in the morning following the example of washing before a meal, and even the berachah has the same wording. L'chatchilah, when washing in the morning, one should take care that all the necessary requirements for washing one’s hands before a meal are met – that there is at least a revi’it of water, that he washes with a vessel, that there is human force involved in the pouring (ko’ach gavra), and that the appearance of the water has not changed. B’dieved, even if there is no revi’it of water there, or a vessel, or human force (ko’ach gavra), since the water does in fact clean a person for prayer, it is the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch and the Rama that the "Al netilat yadayim" berachah is recited. If the appearance of the water has changed and became invalid for washing before a meal, one may use it to wash his hands for Shacharit, but instead recite "Al nekiyut yadayim" (Shulchan Aruch section 4, paragraphs 1, 6, 7, 22). However, the Mishnah Berurah 4:7, and Bei’ur Halachah write that according to many Acharonim, even if the water becomes invalid for washing before a meal, one may recite Al netilat yadayim when washing before Shacharit, because the water does clean his hands enough for prayer. Kaf HaChaim 4:11 and Halachah Berurah 4:12 write that one does not recite a blessing for the washing in the morning if there is anything that renders it invalid for washing before a meal.
^ 2.The Mishnah Berurah 4:4, based on the Magen Avraham, writes that one who wakes up and needs to relieve himself, before doing so must wash his hands three times without a berachah in order to remove the ruach ra’ah from upon them. After relieving himself, he must wash his hands and recite the berachah because according to the Rosh, the morning washing with a berachah was instituted as preparation for prayer. However, Rav Ovadyah Yosef (Halachah Berurah 4:4; Beirur Halachah 4:4) rules that one should first relieve himself in the bathroom and then wash his hands three times so that the berachah will be on the first washing of the day, for that is the more correct way according to the Rashba. Furthermore, if a person has a great need to relieve himself, to the point where if he abstained he would be transgressing the prohibition, "Do not abominate oneself," the law is that one must relieve himself first and only after that wash his hands. It is possible to retort to this argument that there is no issue of "abominating oneself" in such a case since washing one’s hands takes so little time. The practical custom follows the opinion of the Mishnah Berurah and the kabbalists, in order to quickly purify oneself from the ruach ra’ah. Regarding the berachah being recited before drying one’s hands, see Kaf HaChaim 4:8. However, according to the Ashkenazic minhag, one may delay reciting the berachah and combine it with Birkot HaShachar. Nevertheless, it is best to recite it immediately following the performance of the mitzvah, as the Mishnah Berurah writes in 6:9.
^ 3.However, the Mishnah Berurah (Bei’ur Halachah 4:1 s.v. "V’Afilu") rules like the Chayei Adam, maintaining that if one wakes up much earlier than the time to pray and he knows that he will need to relieve himself again before praying, he should recite a berachah on the washing closest to praying, for that is how he fulfills the obligation l'chatchilah according to the Rosh. Even in the opinion of the Rashba one may delay reciting the berachah on washing and recite it immediately before praying. That is what the Or L’Tzion, part 2, 1:6, and Halichot Shlomo 2:23 write as well.
Still, many Acharonim write that it is preferable to recite the blessing on the washing closer to one’s waking for that is the correct way according to the Rashba. Even according to the Rosh, if he recites Birkot HaShachar immediately after the first washing, it is possible that they will be considered the beginning of prayer, as write the Shlah, Graz (in his siddur, p. 1), Sha’arei Teshuvah, Derech HaChaim, and Aruch HaShulchan 4:5. The Aruch HaShulchan explains further that even according to the Rosh, the washing of one’s hands and the recital of the berachah were instituted to be performed adjacent to one’s waking, just like the other Birkot HaShachar. Even according to the Mishnah Berurah 6:9, it is possible to rely on those poskim. The Kaf HaChaim 4:52 writes as well that one must recite Al netilat yadayim immediately upon getting up. Additionally, he brings a dispute of the Acharonim as follows: there are those who say that one may recite Al netilat yadayim even before chatzot, which is the custom of the kabbalists (Ben Ish Chai, Toldot 13). However, the Graz and others write that one must recite Al netilat yadayim only after chatzot. I wrote that one should recite it only after chatzot in order to avoid uncertainty. If he intends to go back to sleep (when he woke up after chatzot), indeed according to the Ben Ish Chai, Kaf HaChaim 46:49, based on the Kabbalah, and the Graz, he should recite Al netilat yadayim after his first waking. In any case, in this situation, it seems better to practice according to the Mishnah Berurah, Chayei Adam, and the Gra, as I have written.
^ 4.The Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 4:14-15, mentions this uncertainty and rules to wash three times, but without a berachah because of doubt. The Eshel Avraham 4:1 writes in the name of his father-in-law that being careful not to walk four amot and not to touch bodily orifices only apply when one wakes up for Shacharit from a nighttime sleep and does not intend to go back to sleep. However, one who wakes up in the middle of the night for a few minutes and intends to return to sleep need not be cautious to refrain from walking four amot without washing his hands or touching his bodily orifices, just as a person sometimes touches his bodily orifices while sleeping. Only after the final waking from his nighttime sleep must one be strict about these things. He writes further that this lends credence to the many who are lenient regarding this. Concerning waking up from a daytime sleep, he writes that it is obvious that one need not be careful to refrain from touching bodily orifices, and he himself acted that way. The Kaf HaChaim 4:52 writes in the name of the kabbalists, based on the Arizal, that the ruach ra’ah only rests upon one who sleeps through chatzot, but if he did not sleep through chatzot, even if he slept a regular sleep on his bed, the ruach ra’ah does not exist, and therefore it is not necessary to wash three times. However, the Ben Ish Chai, Toldot 15, writes that one needs to wash his hands three times after every regular sleep, even during the day; though if that sleep did not continue through chatzot, it is not necessary to be strict in refraining from touching bodily orifices or in taking any other precautions. The Sha’arei Teshuvah 4:1 cites an opinion that even a person who slept during the day needs to be careful not to touch his bodily orifices or food. Some act this way l’chatchilah.
For the amount of sleep necessary to be considered a regular sleep, see Bei’ur Halachah 4:16 and Kaf HaChaim 4:55. Some say it is three hours and some say it is three minutes, though the average amount of time accepted by the majority of poskim is approximately half an hour, as I have written.
^ 5.This is how the Shulchan Aruch 4:14 rules based on what he wrote in the Beit Yosef in the name of Orchot Chaim. According to this, presumably there is a need to be stringent not to touch one’s bodily orifices after alot hashachar until he washes his hands. (See also Hagahot of Rabbi Akiva Eiger 4:1, where it is implied that from the time he wakes up at night and washes his hands three times, he should not touch his bodily orifices until he washes his hands again three times after alot hashachar.) However, the opinion of the majority of poskim and kabbalists is that there is no lingering of the ruach ra’ah at the end of the night, and therefore, although we take into consideration the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch, and the minhag is that one who is up at night, or who wakes up before alot hashachar, goes back and washes his hands again three times after alot hashachar, nonetheless, we are not very strict about this. That is what the Eshel Avraham writes in 4:1, as well as Da’at Torah. Especially someone who is engrossed in Torah need not stop his learning in order to wash his hands. As it seems, regarding this law, we are even more lenient than we are about the ruling concerning one who sleeps during the day, as implied from Shulchan Aruch HaRav 4:13. In practice , after alot hashachar it is customary to wash again three times, but one need not be careful not to touch his bodily orifices, nor rush to wash at the moment alot hashachar arrives. In addition, there is doubt as to when exactly alot hashachar is (see further in this book 11:1). Therefore, after alot hashachar according to all opinions, he should wash his hands three times. One who is engrossed in Torah study should first finish the subject he is learning and then go wash his hands.
^ 6.The Shulchan Aruch 4:14-15 maintains that every regular sleep at night brings the ruach ra’ah and one must wash his hands three times alternately. Even so, in the cases above, I wrote "it is proper" because the Eshel Avraham writes in the name of his father-in-law (as brought in note 4) that the ruach ra’ah exists only after waking up in the morning. Many who have become accustomed not to wash their hands when they arise in the middle of the night rely on this. The basis for Eshel Avraham’s words is found in the Beit Yosef (4:14-15) who writes that there is concern that at alot hashachar the ruach ra’ah may rest even upon those who were awake all night. The opinion of most kabbalists, according to the Ari, is that the ruach ra’ah only lingers after a person sleeps through chatzot, but if one went to sleep after chatzot, the ruach ra’ah does not rest upon his hands. Moreover, even if a person who slept through chatzot already woke up once after chatzot and washed his hands three times, the ruach ra’ah does not rest upon his hands a second time. Hence, according to this, it is not necessary to wash one’s hands three times upon every waking at night. In addition to this, there are those who say that nowadays the ruach ra’ah does not exist. Therefore, only one who wakes up in the morning must be careful to wash his hands three times because the source for this stems from the Talmud. However, beyond that, concerning waking up in the middle of the night, it is not an obligation to wash one’s hands, though it is proper to do so. Those who practice according to Kabbalah must ensure that the first time they wake up after chatzot they wash three times. Also from the standpoint of Birkat Shehakol, it is proper to wash one’s hands, but it is not an obligation, as explained in the Shulchan Aruch 4:23. Even if he touched normally covered parts of his body, he can suffice with rubbing his hands on a cloth of some sort, as clarified in the Mishnah Berurah 4:61. Similarly, before relieving oneself, it is advisable to wash one’s hands because of the ruach ra’ah, but it is not an obligation, as clarified above. Additionally, see the opinion of Rav Ovadyah Yosef in note 2.