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Thought for the Day: Washing for Bread; Don't be Stingy

When I first moved to Chicago I had the z'chus of joining a Mishna Brura shiur given by R' Shmuel Fuerst, shlita, to ba'alei batim.  The venue was basically to go straight through each halacha, doing every Mishna Brura inside, though we occasionally (often) veered into interesting cases that the rav had handled on the topic (I believe the rav had a lot of fun with us).  The exception he made to going through every M'chaber, Rema. and Mishna Brura was washing for a bread meal.  "Just use at least a r'vi'is of water on each hand, and you'll be fine."  Then we skipped two pages and continued.  I balked.  You can imagine how far that got me.  In fact, if one does go through the Mishna Bruras on that sugya, one will find at the end of nearly every other Mishna Brura, "So use at least a revi'is of water on each hand."  Here's why.

Chazal decreed a certain level/aspect of tuma on the hands.  Rinsing the hands with a full r'vi'is of water is the equivalent of toveling the whole body in a kosher mikveh (of 40 sa'a).  Once the hands are washed, they are tahor and the water used to wash them is also tahor (just as the mikveh water remains tahor).  Note that a r'vi'is is like 3 to 5, our washing cups are generally 20 to 30 oz, and we have running water; so this it is not onerous to use a r'vi'is for each washing of each hand.  Moreover, the Shulchan Aruch says that washing with deluge of water is a s'gula for parnassa.  Of course your intention should be for the mitzvah (as noted by the Mishna Brura), but it's not bad to get some help with the bills.  (Actually, the Mishna Brura goes so far as to say that if you wash with a generous amount of water and are still having financial difficulties, then you must be doing something to block the flow of bracha.  That's the problem with these s'gulas... sin can derail them.  Darn.)

So what if you don't wash with a whole r'vi'is?  In fact, halacha actually allows up to two people to have their hands washed with only one r'vi'is.  So what's the problem?  First problem is that if you wash with less than a r'vi'is, the water itself becomes tamei in the process of making your hand tahor.  The second washing is to knock that tamei water off your hands (many poskim hold, in fact, that if you use a r'vi'is of water on the first shot, that you don't even need the second washing; other argue, so best to be machmir).  That tamei water from the first washing is a real nuisance.  If that water touches anything (other than the hand on which it is resting), it will make that other thing tamei.  So, if that tamei water gets on your other hand (even though already washed), or even on the cup and then your other hand... KAZANG!  It gets re-tamei-ified.  Dry off and start the washing process again.

Another problem: trying to cover the entire hand (back and front) with an oz or so of water (ie, less than a r'vi'is).  In that case the part of the hand that didn't get wet is still tamei.  Now the second water -- whose job is to remove the tamei first water -- itself becomes tamei.  Requiring at least additional washings.

Another problem: you have a little rock or something on your hand.  The first water now becomes tamei, which makes the rock tamei.  The second water can only knock of tamei water; once it touches that rock, it becomes tamei and that re-tamei-ifies your hand.  Dry hands and start over.

This is only a sampling of the issues that can come up if you use a small amount of water.  So.... just use at least a r'vi'is of water on each hand, and you'll be fine.  It's not the law, just a good idea.  A really, really, really good idea.

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