Netilat Yadayim: Walking more than 4 Amot

The Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 4:1) rules that upon waking up in the morning, one should wash one’s hands and recite the blessing of “Al Netilat Yadayim”, and the Bet Yosef discusses two reasons for this enactment. Citing the Rosh, the Bet Yosef explains that during the night, one may have touched unclean parts of one’s body and would therefore need to clean one’s hands when waking up. The other reason, given in the name of the Rashba, is that when one wakes up in the morning it is as though one was created anew, and such a creation warrants its own washing with a blessing. A third and separate reason for washing one’s hands in the morning is that when one sleeps at night, the body experiences one-sixtieth of death and when one awakes, the body is covered by an evil spirit, known as Ruah Ra’a. Washing one’s hands in the morning rem ves this negative spiritual force from one’s hands and by extension, one’s body.

Given these reasons, the Sha’are Teshuva (§ 1) states that one should not walk more than four Amot without washing one’s hands. Indeed, he quotes the Zoharthat says that one who goes more than four Amot without washing one’s hands is liable to death. Because of this, some people sleep near a sink or have a washing vessel at one’s so that they need not walk more than this four Amotwithout washing. As well, Rabbi Baruch Toledano (Magen Avot § 4) is quoted as saying that one should be strict and try within as close to four Amot as possible.

Nevertheless, the Shulhan Aruch does not mention this stringency and some, like Rabbi Moshe ben Habib (Tosfot Yom Hakipurim to Yoma 77b), suggest it is because nowadays, the power of evil spirits has been significantly diminished. Furthermore, it is quoted in the name of the Vilna Gaon that from the time that the famous convert Avraham ben Avraham was martyred sanctifying Hashem’sName, the power of these evil forces was weakened.  Additionally, the Kaf HaHaim (O.H. 4:1), the Ben Ish Hai (Parashat Toledot) and Rabbi Ben Zion Abba Shaul (Or LeZion, vol. II, ch. 1, commentary to responsum #3) all clarify that the principal time when one is affected by Ruah Ra’a is when one sleeps before Halachic midnight. If one sleeps after this time, they explain, one need not be concerned about walking more than four Amot without washing.  Another source for the leniency of not having to wash within four Amot is the opinion of Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar (Berachot ) that one’s entire dwelling is considered one’s four Amot.

If one wishes to be strict but cannot wash within four Amot, Rabbi Shalom Messas (quoted in Yalkut Shemesh) and Rabbi Ben Zion Abba Shaul (Or LeZion vol. II, ch. 1) say that one should walk the distance of four Amot and stop, and then walk another four Amot and stop, and so one until one reaches the sink. In this way one is not walking more than four Amot in a continuous fashion but rather in discrete sections.

Summary:  There are those that are lenient and walk more than four Amot in the morning before washing one’s hands. If one wishes to be strict one can walk four Amot at a time and stop until one reaches the sink or vessel.

      netilat yadayim in the morning