May these words of Torah serve as a merit le’iluy nishmat Menachem Mendel ben Harav Yoel David Balk, a”h.
This week we learned Zevachim 21. These are some highlights.
Zevachim 21: Can you fulfill your obligation of washing your hands before eating a meal by thrusting your hands into a vessel filled with water?
Our Gemara discusses the kohen’s washing of his hands and feet from the kiyor. The verse (Shemot 30:19) states: “Verachatzu Aharon ubanav mimenu et y’deihem v’et ragleihem, And Aharon and his sons will wash from it their hands and their feet.” The Gemara wonders, what about a kohen who merely immersed his hands and feet in the waters of the kiyor? The verse specified mimenu. Does the verse mean to say only washing from it is sufficient, and washing in it is not kosher? Or, perhaps a kohen can also wash his hands by immersing them into the kiyor? The Gemara does not resolve this question. The kohen’s washing of his hands and feet is a biblical obligation. The fact that the Gemara’s question is not resolved means that we are to be strict. A kohen should not merely immerse his hands into the kiyor. He should pour water out from the kiyor and onto his hands. But if a kohen immersed his hands into the kiyor and then performed sacred service, the sacrifice would not be disqualified. Perhaps he is considered one who has washed his hands and the sacrifice cannot be discarded based on a mere possibility of not having correctly washed his hands (See Rambam Hilchot Beit Mikdash 5:10). What about washing your hands before eating a meal? Would you fulfill your obligation if you only immersed your hands into a cup filled with water and did not pour water from the cup over your hands?
Behag (Berachot 10a and quoted in Tosafot Chullin 107a) derives from our Gemara that immersing hands into a cup of water would be sufficient for netilat yadayim. Our Gemara raises the question in regard to washing hands and feet from the kiyor. The mitzvah of kiddush yadayim veraglayim is described in the Torah as a washing “mimenu.” The Gemara proposed that “mimenu velo betocho.” Perhaps “mimenu” teaches that you must wash hands from it, and you cannot wash hands in it. The law of netilat yadayim is not derived from this verse. The Torah never said that netilat yadayim needs to be done “mimenu.” Washing of the hands before a meal can therefore be accomplished by merely immersing your hands into a cup filled with water.
Most Rishonim disagree with the Behag. They feel that the laws of netilat yadayim were modeled on the laws of kiddush yadayim v’raglayim. Kol d’tikun rabbanan ke’ein d’oraita tikun—whenever rabbis enact laws, they pattern them on the laws of the Torah. The Torah’s law of washing hands is kiddush yadayim v’raglayim in the Mikdash. Our
Gemara’s conclusion is that kohanim would not actually wash their hands and feet by immersing them. We are not sure such an immersion is sufficient. Since in actuality priests were told not to immerse their hands and feet in the kiyor, the law of netilat yadayim was enacted to require the washing of the hands, and the sages never allowed for merely immersing the hands into the water in the cup (Bach 159:9).
While our authorities equate the washing of hands, netilat yadayim, with kiddush yadayim v’raglayim (the washing of the hands and feet of the kohen), there are important differences between these two areas of Jewish law. All agree that immersing your hands into a kosher mikvah or into the sea or a spring is sufficient to fulfill the obligation of netilat yadayim before a meal (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 159:14-20). On the other hand, as we learn in our Gemara, a kohen who immerses his hands in a mikvah is not able to do the service. Immersing hands in the mikvah is not sufficient for the mitzvah of kiddush yadayim v’raglayim. The kohen needs to pour water from the kiyor onto his hands and feet to fulfill the obligation of kiddush yadayim v’raglayim and to be kosher for the service.
By Rabbi Zev Reichman
Rabbi Zev Reichman teaches Daf Yomi in his shul, East Hill Synagogue.