Hand Washing - Step By Step
You will need:
- Both your hands
- A large cup
- The help of a friend
- 1. Immediately after we drink wine, fill a large cup or jug with water (it’s nice, but not necessary, to choose a special one to use just for this purpose).
- * We use a cup to pour the water over our hands, instead of putting them directly under the faucet. This underscores the idea that rousing our consciousness can happen only through human action.
- 2. Hold the cup in one hand and pour some of the water over the opposite hand.
- 3. Repeat this on the other side.
- * Generally, we pour water on our own hands, but if it’s meaningful to you, the pouring can also be done by a friend or loved one.
- 4. Before saying the blessing, lift your hands up, representing the great heights of your intentions for Shabbat.
Usually, when we wash our hands it’s for a very basic reason: to clean them. But hygiene is only one factor in the Jewish ritual of hand washing. On Shabbat, we wash our hands in a more ceremonial way, one that’s focused on cleansing our spirits, in addition to bodies.
Across many cultures, water symbolizes purity and fertility. It’s widely viewed as the source of life—in many creation myths, life first emerges from water; in the Book of Genesis, God creates the world from water. It’s the ultimate symbol of cleanliness: clear and untainted, water is pure and, in turn, it makes us clean and pure. (That’s why water plays a central role in numerous religious rites, from Christian baptisms to the Hindu tradition of bathing in the Ganges River.) And, since water constitutes the majority of our bodies, water is an essential part of our own existence.
Because it can transform from a liquid, to a solid, to a vapor, water is a powerful symbol of change and renewal. On Shabbat, the ritual washing of our hands is one way that we signify our transition from the workweek to the day of rest.
When the ancient Temple stood in Jerusalem, the priests would wash their hands ceremonially before entering it. They would do the same before eating any portions of food that were sacrificed to them. Today, washing our hands ritually reminds us that the world we live in is a kind of holy temple, too, and that what we do in it makes a difference. Taking time to ritually wash our hands puts us in control of how we eat, making it more of a decisive, elevated act, as opposed to a primal one. It is also a way of easing the transition from one state of consciousness to another.
On Shabbat, the process of washing before eating helps create a sense that we are part of a sacred gathering, unlike an everyday meal. On Friday nights, we traditionally wash our hands in preparation for eating challah, which kicks off the Sabbath meal. Washing our hands and eating challah are actually considered one continuous act, and it’s customary to be silent from the moment of washing until we taste the challah (with the exception of reciting the Hamotzi, the blessing for bread). This small a period of quiet helps us stay focused on what we’re doing, and why.