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holy hands
middot cleanliness mesorah holy hands

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holy hands

Written by  rabbi benjamin ehrenfeld

art-washingOne of the first activities incumbent upon Jews as preparation for morning prayer and meals is the act of ritual hand washing. One of the more interesting features of this mitzvah is the language of the blessing one recites upon performance: 

 

 

Blessed are You, LORD, our God, ruler of the universe, who has imbued holiness with your commandments and has commanded us concerning the elevation of hands.

The term, “wash,” is never used! The primary mitzvah is that we elevate the sanctity of meals and prayer through the act of washing. This is connected to a vast stream of tradition beginning with the Torah itself, which focuses ever so much on the connection between cleanliness and holiness. We find this in mikvah and tevilot Yeshua also. In these cases, full-body washing symbolizes transition from one stage of life to another with the act of forsaking past sinful behavior. These are also acts of elevation.

Cleanliness has value at very obvious levels: hygiene, health, respect for others and oneself. The blessing over washing hands shows us a not-so-obvious value of cleanliness. Acts that promote and demonstrate cleanliness elevate creation when they are done for the purpose of honoring the Creator. When we honor the world and body God has given us in very explicit ways through cleanliness we bear witness that the world belongs to him, that we belong to him.

As we wash before davening and before our meals this week, may we be reminded of the middah of cleanliness and how it elevates creation and the Creator.

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