From the Rav’s Desk: Must one wash hands every time one wakes up at night

  1. Question: [Monday, 24th Menachem Av 5781]

If one woke up in middle of the night and is planning to instantly return back to sleep, such as for the sake of using the bathroom, or checking on a sleeping kid, or to take a crying baby, must he wash hands prior to walking?


Yes. Initially, one is to wash his hands prior to walking each time that he wakes up in middle of the night, even if he plans to return to bed right away and continue sleeping. However, in a time of great need one may be lenient so long as it is prior to daybreak. Regarding the blessing of Al Netilas Yadayim, you may delay reciting it until you wake up in the morning and wash a second time. If, however, it is already past daybreak, then you must wash hands prior to walking out of bed and should specifically go to the bathroom and wash hands a second time and recite the blessing of Al Netilas Yadayim, and then immediately after, recite Asher Yatzar and Elokaiy Neshama, and you may then return to sleep.

What to do with the water in the basin: Being that one is not supposed to leave impure water around the room, therefore when washing in middle of the night one should right away discard the water that is in the basin, or alternatively pour a Revius of clean water into it, in order to get rid of its impurity.

Explanation: According to the Zohar, which is the accepted ruling, it is a severe prohibition to walk four cubits with the nighttime sleep impurity on the hands. This impurity resides on one’s hands after sleeping 60 breaths during the nighttime, and hence after each time that one sleeps 60 breaths during the nighttime the spirit of impurity returns to his hands, and he is therefore required to wash his hands prior to walking four cubits. Accordingly, one who wakes up intermittently during the night to leave his bed must wash his hands prior to getting out of bed in order to get rid of this impurity even though he plans to return to sleep and wash again in the morning. Now, although there are some Poskim who suggest that if one woke up prior to daybreak and plans to return to sleep in the impure spirit does not reside on the hands and therefore washing is not required, practically, one should not rely on this opinion unless it is a case of great need. According to all, if one woke up past Alos he must wash his hands prior to doing any of the above even if he plans to return to sleep.

Sources: See regarding the general Zoharic restriction of walking prior to washing: Admur Basra 1:7; Kama 1:7; Siddur; Tolaas Yaakov in name of the Zohar; Peri Eitz Chaim; Olas Tamid 17a; brought also in Bach; Shiyurei Kneses Hagedola 4; Halacha Berurah 1; Birkeiy Yosef 1:1; Shalmei Tzibur 18a; Beis Oveid; Matzas Shmurim 3a; Ben Ish Chaiy Toldos 6; Beir Heiytiv 1:2; Shaareiy Teshuvah 1:2; Kaf Hachaim 4:1; M”B 1:2. Sefer Haminhagim p. 4 [English]; Poskim who rule that even in middle of the night washing is required: Mishmeres Shalom Kudinav 1:3; Darkei Chaim Veshalom 3; Toras Yekusiel 1:1; Kaf Hachaim 4:4 in name of Zechor Leavraham “Regarding this prohibition of walking four Amos it makes no difference whether one awakens in middle of the night and desires to return to sleep or is awaking in the morning.”; Mishmeres Shalom Kudinav 1:3; Piskeiy Teshuvos 1:6; Poskim who rule that in middle of the night washing is not required: Ashel Avraham Butchach 4 “Behanal Odos”: “I heard from my father in law that the stringency of the Zohar not to walk four Amos prior to washing is only when one awakens in the morning without intent to return to sleep. This is opposed to one who temporarily gets up in middle of the night to use the bathroom and then immediately returns to sleep, in which case one may be lenient to walk to the bathroom without washing hands beforehand. This is a great justification for those that are lenient in this.”; Mishmeres Shalom ibid questions this ruling and concludes as above that one may only be lenient in a time of need; So rules also Shraga Hameir 3:103; Piskeiy Teshuvos 1:6 footnote 41; However based on Kaf Hachaim 4:4 it would be forbidden just like one who awoke in the morning. Vetzaruch Iyun as the entire reason for not allowing walking before washing is because one defiles the service of Hashem by delaying the removal of the evil spirit. [Basra 1:7] If however one plans to returns to sleep right away then he is not yet ready to serve Hashem and hence delaying the removal of the evil spirit is just like one who continues sleeping without awaking in which he did no wrong by allowing the evil spirit remain on his hands throughout the night. To note that even the Ashel Avraham ibid concludes that “one who adds in holiness and purity certainly is blessed”; See regarding discarding the water used for the washing: Shulchan Hatahor 4:1; Zohar Chaiy Vayeishev brought in Piskeiy Teshuvos 1:6: “Leaving the water there is a Sakana and can lead to Keri”;

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