Simanim 181-182 Mayim Acharonim

  • Rav Asher Meir
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #113: Simanim 181-182


By Rabbi Asher Meir



Preface: David Solomon had two very pertinent comments regarding shiur 107, on simanim 171-173.


1.  I implied in that shiur that there is no need to wash on waking from a daytime nap.  The SA, however, says the opposite: that there is a doubt as to whether washing is required, and therefore we should wash (SA OC 4:15).


The MB there points out that even at night there is no requirement for washing on sleep less than "sixty breaths," and the BH brings a very wide variety of views as to how long this is - from three minutes to two or three hours.  Therefore, for a daytime nap that is not two hours long, there may be a double doubt (sefeik sefeika): maybe no washing is required in the day, and maybe the nap wasn't long enough to require washing even at night.  Even so, it is proper to wash, and to avoid putting food under the bed during a nap (though for raw food there is yet a third safeik, as explained in the shiur).


2.  I mentioned in the shiur that the Magen Avraham seems to allow eating meat with fish, and then I pointed out that the Magen Avraham's conclusion does not seem inescapable from his premises.  I did not mention explicitly that as far as I know the custom is NOT according to the Magen Avraham.  (Though I am told that Teimanim, who follow the Rambam, do mix meat and fish since this restriction is not found in the Rambam, presumably for the reason mentioned in the MA.)





There are two main passages that discuss mayim acharonim:


The Rabbis taught [in a beraita]: [Anointing the hands with] oil is indispensable for the berakha, so says Rebbe Zilai; Rebbe Zivai says it is not indispensable.  Rav Acha says, good oil is indispensable [for someone who always uses it - Rashi].


Rebbe Zuhamai says: Just as a [Kohen who is] tamei (mezuham) is unfit for avoda, so are hands that are soiled (mezuhamot) unfit for a berakha.


Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak said: I don't know not from Zilai and not from Zivai and not from Zuhamai.  But I know the beraita that Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: "And you shall sanctify yourselves" (Vayikra 20:7) - this refers to mayim rishonim; "and you shall be holy" - this refers to mayim acharonim; "for holy" - this is oil; "am I, the Lord your God" - this refers to the berakha.   (Berakhot 53b)


The second passage is from Chullin:


Rav Idi bar Avin said in the name of Rav Yitzchak bar Ashyan: Mayim rishonim are a mitzva (commandment); acharonim - a chova (obligation). 


Rishonim can be washed either into a vessel or onto the ground; acharonim - only into a vessel; others say - they shouldn't be washed over the ground.  The difference between [these wordings] is [to wash over] wood chips.


Mayim rishonim can be either hot or cold, acharonim - cold only, because hot water penetrates the hands and doesn't wash away the soil...


Rav Yehuda the son of Rebbe Chiya said: why did they call mayim acharonim an obligation? Because of Sodomite salt, which blinds the eyes. 


Abaye said: I used to say that mayim acharonim are not rinsed onto the ground because of the soil, until my master said to me: because a ruach ra'ah indwells in them.  (Chullin 105a-b)




Three distinct reasons seem to be given for mayim acharonim, while yet a fourth reason seems to be hinted at.  Let us list and then reconcile these reasons.


1.  Rebbe Zuhamai says that "hands that are soiled (mezuhamot) are unfit for a berakha."


2.  Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak says that the source is from the verse "And you shall be holy."


3.  Rav Yehuda the son of Rebbe Chiya says that there is an obligation because of the Sodomite salt.


4.  Abaye says that we shouldn't wash onto the floor because there is a ruach ra'ah in the water.  Where does this ruach come from?  Doesn't it imply that there is a ruach ra'ah on the hands themselves - just as the ruach ra'ah on the water that we use to wash in the morning stems from the ruach ra'ah on the hands (see SA OC 4)?


Let us make order among these considerations.


1, 2.  The first two reasons remind us of the two rationales mentioned for washing in the morning: because of dirt or because of sanctification.  (See MB 4:1.)  It seems that just as there is a dispute among the Rishonim about which of these two reasons obligates washing in the morning, there is a dispute among the Amoraim (and perhaps even Tannaim) about which of these reasons obligates mayim acharonim.  Or perhaps both reasons are operative: Rebbe Zuhamai points out that it is improper to bench with dirty hands, and Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak proves from a beraita that even if the hands are clean, washing is necessary in order to bench with kedusha.  (Alternatively, the requirement for kedusha may be the reason why washing with dirty hands is inappropriate, in which case the two reasons are one.)


3.  Rav Yehuda the son of Rebbe Chiya does not give the reason for washing mayim acharonim, but rather the reason it is called a "chova."  The Rishonim explain that the reasons above make it a mitzva, whereas the consideration of Sodomite salt elevate it to a chova, what the Rashba calls "the obligation to protect the body."


4.  The BH (d.h. "ela") unambiguously implies that there is NO ruach ra'ah on the hands before mayim acharonim. 


Ironically, it seems to be the washing itself that creates the ruach ra'ah!  This can be likened to the ruach ra'ah after cutting one's nails (SA OC 4:18-19).  There is no ruach ra'ah on the fingernails when they are part of the body, but detaching them creates a vacuum of kedusha as they lose their status as part of the body, which is the abode of the soul. 


Similarly, food eaten in the proper spirit of sanctity is elevated as it is made part of the body.  But what is left over on the hands has lost its potential for this elevation to holiness.  Such a lost or frustrated potential is one way of understanding the concept of "ruach ra'ah" and tuma.  Until the hands are washed, there is still the chance that the food sticking to them will be eaten, but washing the hands concludes the meal and sentences the rinsed-off remainders to a grim fate.


According to this explanation, the ruach ra'ah could still be considered a rationale for washing, since benching without washing would also relegate the soil on the hands to remainders and imbue them with a ruach ra'ah.  While the hands do not have a ruach ra'ah prior to washing, they would acquire one if we went ahead and benched without washing.




There are various consequences of these distinctions. 


(i) If one person is making the blessing for the others, then reasons 1 and 2, which relate to birkhat ha-mazon, apply only to him.  The others have an obligation to wash because of the salt, but this could wait until after grace (Raavad, Tosafot Rosh).


(ii) Washing because of cleanliness could possibly be waived for someone whose hands are clean, e.g. if the meal was eaten with flatware.  But "kedusha," if it is a separate consideration, would still obligate washing.  (Again, this corresponds to the dispute regarding washing in the morning.  According to the Rosh, who says that the reason is because of cleanliness, one whose hands are certainly clean does not need to wash.  (Example: he was up all night and is sure he did not touch any dirty place.  Or he wore gloves - see Yabia Omer IV:2.) But according to the Rashba, washing is still obligatory.


(iii) Since mayim acharonim are called a "chova," it is obligatory even in a military camp, when we are exempt from the "mere" mitzva of mayim rishonim (Eiruvin 17b).


Tosafot, however, conflate reasons 1, 2 and 3.  They write that the original reason for mayim acharonim is Sodomite salt alone.  Since no one wants this salt on his hands, it is considered soil, and therefore kedusha requires washing it off.  They conclude that nowadays when such salt is not common, ALL of these reasons lapse and therefore no washing is necessary.  Normal dirt prevents making a berakha only if people are normally careful about this; Tosafot liken this to oil, which is indispensable only for someone accustomed to it, according to Rashi's explanation of Rav Acha.  But for someone not accustomed to wash before benching, such normal dirt is not considered "zuhama" at all.  (All this explained in MB s.k. 22.)  It follows that someone who IS sensitive to such dirt MUST wash mayim acharonim even nowadays - as the SA rules in se'if 10.





Mayim rishonim require a blessing, "al netilat yadayim." What about mayim acharonim?


There is a responsum of the Geonim, ruling that a berakha IS required on mayim acharonim.  The berakha is "al rechitzat yadayim," since there is no requirement to wash from a vessel, which according to some opinions is the meaning of the word "netila."  This is also the view of the Rama (author of the Yad Rama).


Conversely, according to the opinion of the Tosafot, the entire basis for mayim acharonim is to protect ourselves from the Sodomite salt.  According to this approach, even when such salt IS common, no berakha is necessary, since we do not make a blessing on halakhic obligations that are only intended to protect our well being.


The Raavad has an intermediate view.  As we mentioned above in (i), according to the Raavad there is a requirement to wash BEFORE benching only for the person who actually says the blessing.  In addition, he views this obligation as being based on the "zuhama," which as we explained in (ii) relates only to one whose hands are actually dirty.  Therefore, if someone has soiled hands and is reciting the benching himself, he needs to wash mayim acharonim with a berakha, before benching; otherwise, no berakha is required on the washing.


The custom today is explained in SA se'if 7 and MB s.k.  17.




The SA brings three opinions as to when a cup is necessary for birkhat ha-mazon: always; only when there are three people; and never.  Here are the supports for each opinion:


I.  Cup always necessary - Tosafot on Pesachim 105b brings the following proofs:


1.  The beraita there says: "One who enters his house on motzaei Shabbat blesses on the wine, and on the light, and on the spices, and then says havdala on the cup.  And if he has only one cup, he should leave it until after the meal, and then say all the others after it.  We learn from this eight things: we learn that havdala is only over a cup [of wine]; we learn that berakha [birkhat ha-mazon] requires a cup;" etc.

Since the beraita refers to ONE who enters his house, we learn that even a lone individual needs to leave the cup until after the meal, to fulfill the requirement to bench on a cup of wine.


2.  Even if the beraita is talking about a group of people, why should they delay havdala until after eating?  Let them make havdala together, and then eat separately, so that they will not be obligated to bench on wine.


3.  Midrash Tehillim (on Tehillim 3:8) tells a parable of two men who entered an inn with a fine restaurant.  Each sat and ate by himself.  The righteous one ordered a minimal amount of food, including two cups of wine; on one he said grace.  Afterwards he was easily able to determine and pay his bill.  The wicked guest ordered whatever he saw; he didn't keep close track of what he ate and therefore came to blows with the innkeeper over the bill.  At any rate, we see that one who eats alone also says benching over wine.


Tosafot also point out that even a lone individual must drink four cups on Pesach, one of which is a cup over benching, but they concede that perhaps the individual's obligation on Pesach is based on what is only a group obligation year-round.


II.  Cup necessary only with three people (a zimun): The source brought in the Beit Yosef, and cited in the Be'er HaGolah, is the following passage from the Zohar Chadash on Ruth (87c): "Birkhat ha-mazon with three requires a cup, without three doesn't require a cup."  Last week we saw the Zohar Truma (II:157b) cited by the Magen Avraham as one source for requiring bread on the table during benching; I noticed that that passage also says "A cup of blessing is only with three [who have eaten together]."  The Zohar explains that the three diners correspond to the three Patriarchs (Avot).  As we say the blessing OVER the cup, the cup itself is considered a source of blessing, in a close parallel to the reason for saying the blessing over bread, as we saw last week.  The cup is similarly likened to the Land of Israel, which is the earthly source of material blessing for the Jewish people.  Without getting too esoteric, we could explain that the land of Israel was promised to each of the three Patriarchs, and so we bench over a cup of wine, which represents Eretz Yisrael, only when there are three men who correspond to the three Avot.  (For a less esoteric approach, see MB s.k.1.)


III.  Cup never a requirement: This is the ruling of the Rambam (Berakhot 7:15).  The Beit Yosef suggests that the source is in Pesachim 117b.  The Mishna says that benching is said over the third of the four cups at the Seder.  Ravina (our reading is Rav Chanan) wants to prove from this that benching always requires a cup; Rava replies that the four cups are an independent obligation, but since the Seder requires them, the Sages associated each one with an additional mitzva as well.


Even according to this view, benching over a cup is ideal.  This is how this approach explains the passages above - they refer to someone who is anxious to fulfill the mitzva in the ideal way.