- Rabbi Josh Flug
The previous issue discussed the two reasons for the mitzvah of netilat yadayim. The first reason is based on a concern that those who handle terumah should handle it without (ritually) defiling it. The second reason is that there is a rabbinic mitzvah to prepare one's hands before eating a meal. This article will discuss the beracha that is recited upon performance of the mitzvah of netilat yadayim.
Recitation of the Beracha After the Netilah
The Gemara, Pesachim 7b, states that all berachot that are recited in conjunction with performance of a mitzvah must be recited prior to the performance of the mitzvah. This principle is known as over la'asi'atan. The Gemara notes that tevilah (immersion) is an exception to the rule. Since the beracha on immersion cannot be recited prior to the immersion, it is recited after the immersion. Rabbeinu Chananel, ad loc., cites a dispute regarding what is included in the exception to the principle of over la'asi'atan. The first opinion maintains that the only type of tevilah that is excluded from the principle of over la'asi'atan is tevilat hager (the immersion of a convert). A convert is not considered Jewish until he completes his immersion. Therefore, it is impossible for him to recite the beracha prior to the immersion. However, regarding other forms of tevilah, the beracha is recited prior to the immersion. The second opinion maintains that since there are instances of tevilah where the beracha cannot be recited prior to the tevilah, the rabbis instituted that the beracha on all forms of immersion is recited subsequent to the immersion.
Tosafot, ad loc., s.v. Al HaTevilah, note that according to the second opinion, the same logic can be applied to netilat yadayim. There are instances of netilat yadayim where one's hands are too dirty to recite a beracha prior to netilat yadayim. For this reason, the beracha is always recited subsequent to the netilat yadayim. Tosafot then offer a different explanation as to why one would recite the beracha after netilat yadayim. The Gemara, Sotah 4b, states that one must dry one's hands after netilat yadayim. Tosafot argue that one can consider drying one's hands as part of netilat yadayim. Therefore, even if one recites the beracha after washing one's hands, if the beracha is recited prior to drying one's hands, it is still considered over la'asi'atan.
Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 158:11, rules in accordance with the opinion of Rambam, Hilchot Berachot 6:2, that the beracha recited on netilat yadayim is recited prior to washing one's hands. However, he notes that common practice is to recite the beracha after netilat yadayim citing the reason mentioned by Tosafot that sometimes one's hands are too dirty to recite the beracha before washing one's hands. Rama, ad loc., cites the other reason of Tosafot – that drying one's hands is part of the mitzvah - and notes that according to this reason, if one neglected to recite the beracha prior to drying one's hands, one would no longer be able to recite the beracha. However, Rama rules that bdi'eved (ex post facto), if one neglected to recite the beracha prior to drying one's hands, one may recite the beracha until one recites "hamotzi" on the bread. [Rama, in ruling that one may recite the beracha after one's hands are already dry, does seem to side with the opinion in Tosafot that the beracha on netilat yadayim is an exception to the principle of over la'asi'atan. Nevertheless, it is possible that Rama is simply following his own opinion (Yoreh De'ah 19:1) that if one neglects to recite the beracha before performance of the mitzvah, one may recite it afterwards.]
The approach that drying one's hands is part of the mitzvah of netilat yadayim does not necessarily apply to every instance of netilat yadayim. The Tosefta, Yadayim 2:1, rules that if one immerses his hands in a mikveh, he is not required to dry his hands. Mordechai, Berachot 202, implies that the same applies to one who pours a revi'it (approximately 4 oz.) on both hands simultaneously or a revi'it on each hand. If one fulfills the mitzvah in that manner, should he recite the beracha prior to performing netilat yadayim? Taz, Orach Chaim 158:13, quotes the opinion of Rashi, Sotah 4b, s.v. Kol HaOchel, who claims that drying is not (only) necessary for purposes of ritual impurity, but rather because it is revolting to eat bread with wet hands. Taz notes that according to Rashi, all forms of netilat yadayim require drying one's hands. Accordingly, one would follow the regular procedure of reciting a beracha after the netilah even when pouring a revi'it on each hand. However, Taz is reluctant to require drying in a situation where one immerses his hands. Nevertheless, Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim 25:10, notes that the concern for revulsion applies even in a situation of immersion.
Speaking Between Netilat Yadayim and Hamotzi
It is well known that it is not proper to speak between netilat yadayim and the recitation of hamotzi. The source for this practice is the Gemara, Berachot 42a, which states that netilat yadayim should be followed immediately by the beracha. Tur, Orach Chaim 166, states that the intention of the Gemara is to preclude speaking between netilat yadayim and hamotzi. However, not all Rishonim interpret the Gemara in this manner. Rashi, ad loc., s.v. L'netilat Yadayim, and Rambam, Hilchot Berachot 6:20, understand that the Gemara refers to the netilat yadayim at the end of the meal (mayim acharonim). The intention of the Gemara is to preclude speaking (or any other activity) between mayim acharonim and birkat hamazon. Based on the interpretation of Rashi and Rambam, Rabbeinu Yoel (cited in Tur) maintains that it is permissible to speak between netilat yadayim and the recitation of hamotzi. In response to Rabbeinu Yoel, Tur cites a passage in the Talmud Yerushlami, Berachot 1:1, which clearly reflects his own interpretation.
Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 166:1, quotes the opinion of Rabbeinu Yoel that it is permissible to speak between netilat yadayim and hamotzi, and the opinion of Tur that it is prohibited. He concludes that it is proper to be stringent on the matter. Rama, ad loc., adds that since the objective is that netilat yadayim is immediately followed by the recitation of hamotzi, there should not be a long break in between the two, even if one does not speak. Mishna Berurah 166:6, adds that the whole concept of connecting the netilat yadayim and hamotzi is not integral to netilat yadayim. Therefore, if one does interrupt, there is no need to repeat netilat yadayim (and certainly no basis to recite another beracha on that netilah).
Netilat Yadayim Without Eating Bread
Suppose someone performs netilat yadayim and recites the beracha only to realize that he has no bread. Is he required to seek out bread in order that his beracha on the netilat yadayim is not considered a beracha l'vatalah (a blessing recited in vain)? Ritva, Chullin 106b, s.v. Amar Rav addresses a comparable scenario. He notes that if one performs netilat yadayim and recites the beracha and then decides that he no longer desires to eat bread, his beracha on the netilat yadayim is not considered a beracha l'vatala. His rationale is that since his intention was to eat bread at the time of the netilah, he completed the mitzvah of netilat yadayim in its entirety. The beracha of netilat yadayim is applicable to one who desires to eat bread and not necessarily to one who will actually eat bread. Ostensibly, one who thought he had bread and realized after netilat yadayim that he doesn't, is not required to seek out bread. The beracha recited on the netilat yadayim is not considered a beracha l'vatalah. However, R. Chaim C. Medini, S'dei Chemed, Ma'arechet Berachot no. 29, is of the opinion that some Rishonim may disagree with the opinion of Ritva. He concludes that in Ritva's scenario, one should try to compel himself to eat bread in order to avoid a beracha l'vatalah.
Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim 25:8, sides with the opinion of Ritva. Chazon Ish adds that Ritva's principle holds true in the reverse scenario. If someone performs a proper netilat yadayim without any intention to eat bread (for example he washes his hands before prayer), he is now permitted to eat bread. Nevertheless, he does not fulfill the mitzvah of netilat yadayim and may not recite a beracha on that netilat yadayim because the netilah was not intended for the purpose of eating bread.