Halacha Weekly ~ Parshas Kedoshim: The Mitzvah of Mayim Acharonim

Halacha Weekly ~ Parshas Kedoshim: The Mitzvah of Mayim Acharonim


“והתקדשתם והייתם קדושים כי אני ה’ אלקיכם” (כ’,ז’)

The Gemara in Berachos 53b says והתקדשתם אלו מים ראשונים, והייתם קדושים אלו מים אחרונים – Based on this passuk, Chazal established the Mitzvah of מים אחרונים after a סעודה.  There are two reasons for this Mitzvah. The first reason is because a person’s hands are dirty from the סעודה so they are unfit to make a ברכה. The second reason is that even if one’s hands are not dirty, we are still afraid of מלח סדומית.  This is a type of salt that can blind a person if it comes in contact with his eyes. Since there is salt by every סעודה we are afraid that maybe some of this salt was mixed in. It may have gotten onto his hands and he may now touch his eyes.  Therefore one must wash his hands after he eats.

The מחבר (סימן קפ”א סעיף א) writes מים אחרונים חובה – it is an obligation.  In סעיף י’ the מחבר brings the opinion of תוס’ who says יש שאין נוהגין ליטול מים אחרונים – there are those who don’t have the מנהג of washing מים אחרונים.  Since מלח סדומית is not found today and we are also not מקפיד to wash our hands from the זוהמא of the food, it is not considered זוהמא – dirty in regard to reciting a ברכה.     

The Gr”a rules that the mitzvah of מים אחרונים applies today as well.  Even though there is no מלח סדומית there may be other similar salts. The Gr”a also holds that זוהמא applies today as well.  The Zohar writes that there is a סוד גדול ונורא בנטילת מים אחרונים שבזה נותן לחיצונים הרודפים אחריו להזיקו ולקלקלו את חלקם, ובזה מניחים אותו לנפשו ולא ימשכו אותו אחריהם – When one washes מים אחרונים he gives the חיצונים who are chasing after the person to hurt him their portion and they leave him alone.

The (סעיף ד’) מחבר says אין צריך ליטול אלא עד פרק שני של אצבעות – you only need to wash until your second set of knuckles.  The Mishna Berurah writes that he sees many people who are careful to wash מים אחרונים but are not fulfilling their mitzvah.  They put on only a few drops of water at the end of their fingers which doesn’t even reach the first set of knuckles. Sometimes they do even less and just touch the water.  They are not fulfilling the Mitzvah of מים אחרונים. The ביאור הלכה brings the opinion of the Gr”a that לכתחילה one should wash his fingers entirely. The מנהג הגר”א was to also use a רביעית.  The חיד”א however says that one should use the least amount of water possible so as not to give בשפע to the חיצונים. According to everyone the water has to be enough of an amount to pour on the fingers and not to just dip your fingers into the water.  The בן איש חי writes that the water has to be poured onto both hands. One should not pour onto only one hand and then make the other hand wet.

The משנה ברורה paskens that מים אחרונים does not need to be from a כלי or with כח גברא – from a person pouring.  The שער הציון says this is not the opinion of the שלטי גיבורים. Other poskim including the ארי ז”ל are of the opinion that לכתחילה one should wash from a כלי.  This also seems to be the opinion of the Gr”a. Reb Moshe Feinstein zt”l says that one should first wash the fingers on the right hand.

The משנה ברורה brings from the poskim in the name of the ארי ז”ל that one should not be מפסיק between מים אחרונים and ברכת המזון even to speakדברי תורה.  The poskim bring from the ירושלמי that it is a סגולה נפלאה לקבלת שפע עליון.

There is a difference of opinion amongst the poskim regarding the obligation of women in מים אחרונים.  The שלמת חיים says that the reasons for מים אחרונים apply to women as well. Therefore they have the same obligation as men.  This is also the opinion of Reb Shlomo Zalman and Reb Elyashiv zt”l. The שבט הלוי says that the מנהג העולם is that ladies do not wash מים אחרונים.  The שו”ע which we brought above says that the opinion of תוס’ is that today there is no mitzvah of מים אחרונים. Even though the men are מחמיר, the women never accepted upon themselves this חומרא.  Reb Moshe Shternbuch shlit”a says that since today the main reason for מים אחרונים is ע”פ קבלה the women are not מקפיד on this “כי אין הנשים מקפידות בחומרות שיסודם בסוד ה'” – Women are not מקפיד in stringencies based on קבלה.  One should also be מחנך his children to wash מים אחרונים.

Prepared by R’ Avrohom Yehoshua Ziskind

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