- Question: [Sunday, 17th Adar 2, 5782]
If there is no Levi in Shul, who should wash the hands of the Kohanim prior to them performing Nesias Kapayim?
If there is no Levi available to wash the hands of the Kohanim, then Admur and the Poskim rule that a Bechor of the mother [who was Chayav in Pidyon Haben] is to wash the hands of the Kohanim. If there is no Levi or Bechor available, then it is proper for the Kohen to wash his own hands rather than have someone else do so for him. Despite the above ruling, many are accustomed that if there is no Levi in Shul, then the Kohen washes his own hands, and it is not washed by a Bechor. Practically, the Bechor is to wash the hands.
The Shulchan Aruch rules based on the Zohar, that the required washing of the hands of the Kohen is to be done by a Levi. The reason for this is because the verse [Bamidbar 18:2] states that the Levites would assist the Kohanim. Likewise, it is done in order for the Kohanim to add Holiness to their holiness through having their hands sanctified from a Levi who is also called holy in the verse [See Bamidbar 8:17-18]
If a Levi is not available, then Admur and the Poskim rule that a Bechor which is the first born of his mother [i.e. Peter Rechem, and was naturally born and required a Pidyon Haben, as writes the Machatzis Hashekel] is to do the pouring. This is because the Bechor Peter Rechem has some level of holiness being that the Levi became holy through him, as the Bechorim were redeemed and switched for the Levites. However, a firstborn only of the father [as is common to occur in a second marriage for the mother] does not pour water on the hands of the Kohen, as such a firstborn has no holiness today, as their position of Kehuna was taken from them. [Nevertheless, some Poskim write that this custom of having a Bechor do the pouring when Levi’im are unavailable, has not been seen in practice seemingly due to the implication of the Zohar.]
If there is no Levi or Bechor available, then Admur and the Poskim rule that it is proper for the Kohen to wash his own hands rather than have someone else do so for them. The reason that a Yisrael should not do the pouring for him is because it is better for the Kohen to become sanctified through his own pouring, being that he himself is holy, then to be sanctified through the pouring of a Yisrael who is not as holy as he is.
Sources: Admur 128:10; Michaber and Rama 128:6; Zohar 3:146; Beis Yosef 128; Maharash Levi 9; Ketzos Hashulchan 23:20; Igros Moshe 4:127; Shevet Halevi 8:47; Shraga Hameir 8:36; Teshuvos Vehanhagos 3:48; Tzitz Eliezer 21:7; Piskeiy Teshuvos 128:22; See regarding having a Bechor do the pouring if no Levi is available: Admur 128:10; M”A 128:7; Taz 128:3; Bach 128 in name of Maharil; Kneses Hagedola 128:3; Olas Tamid 128:13; Ataz 128:1; Elya Raba 128:10; Shalmei Tzibur p. 143; Chayeh Adam 32:8; Machatzis Hashekel on M”A ibid; Chesed Lealafim 128:3; Ben Ish Chaiy Titzaveh 7; M”B 128:22; Orchos Chaim 128:8; Poskim in Kaf Hachaim 128:40; Ketzos Hashulchan 23:20; Halichos Shlomo 10:9; Piskeiy Teshuvos 128:24 See regarding the custom to no longer have a Bechor do the pouring even when there is no Levi: Kaf Hachaim 128:40; Piskeiy Teshuvos 128:24; See regarding the Kohen pouring on his own hands rather than have a Yisrael do so: Admur 128:10; Kneses Hagedola 128:3; Beir Heiytiv 128:8; M”B 128:22; Ketzos Hashulchan 23:20; Piskeiy Teshuvos 128:24