Question: [Sunday, 6th Tamuz 5780]
Is it true that the Rebbe’s parents washed his hands each time prior to him nursing? Should one try to do the same with their baby?
Chassidim record in the name of Rav Levi Yitzchak and Rebbetzin Chanah that the Rebbetzin was accustomed to wash his hands each time prior to nursing the Rebbe. Some even say that this was a directive of the Rebbe Rashab. There are no known written records on the subject from either of the Rebbe’s parents and hence we have to judge based on what Chassidim have testified to have heard from them. In general, the entire concept seems puzzling, as we all know that a) the Jewish custom is not to be particular for a child to wash his hands for bread until he reaches a certain age. B) even after he reaches that age, Halacha is only particular that one wash his hands for actual bread and not for any other food. In fact, one who washes his hands for other foods besides bread is considered arrogant and it is a discouraged act. So, this custom seems to make no sense! Likewise, there is no firsthand testimony which claims to have heard from the Rebbe’s parents that this matter was a directive of the Rebbe Rashab.
Seemingly however the answer to this lies within the testimony of Rav Yitzchak Goldshmitd who transmitted what he personally heard from the Rebbetzin Chana that her husband [and not the Rebbe Rashab] instructed her to wash his hands every time he wakes up from sleep in order to nurse, starting from the day of birth. This falls right in line with the ruling of Admur in his Shulchan Aruch Basra 4:2 that whoever is particular to wash the hands of a baby who awakens from sleep from the day of the circumcision is called holy. Thus, we can conclude that the hands were washed only after waking up from sleep, and not necessarily prior to each time that he ate. In other words, the washing has nothing to do with washing for bread but rather with washing from after sleep which is something that we all do today.
Accordingly, those mothers who are particular to wash their child’s hands before they eat anything in order to follow the custom of the Rebbe’s parents are seemingly following a mistaken custom, not to mention that as a known rule we’re not meant to copy the personal Hanhagos of the Rabbeim, and there’s no greater proof of this than in this case where the Rebbetzin concludes and testifies that this was only done by the Rebbe and not by any of their other sons.
Sources: Admur Basra 4:2; 158:11; Toldos Levi Yitzchak 2:30; Unlike what writes Professer Branover in Beiyn Halev p. 43 for which I have found no source; nor like Rav Yosef Hartman in Keitzad Nichaneich Es Yiladeinu p. 210 who goes as far as to suggest that perhaps even Admur Hazakein intended to say that one should wash even before eating food and nursing. This to me is completely negated and makes no sense neither to say in Admur nor in the tradition of the Rebbe’s parents. To note that he quotes the tradition in name of Rav Rav Shalom Vilenker from the Sefer Toldos Levi Yitzchak p. 153. I have not found this on the page he quoted, and the sefer Toldos Levi Yitzchak specifically writes as we stated above.