Ki Tisa: Proper Worship

One of the centerpoints of Jewish life and ritual is eating meals.   While many Jews enjoy a l’chayim or two, especially on the recent holiday of Purim, simchas and lifecycle events are often celebrated with a seudah, a festive meal.

A proper “meal” is defined by having at least an egg-size worth of bread.  That’s right – you can eat a t-bone steak and baked potato and not be required to say the full Grace After Meals, but you would if you had a piece of toast and butter.  Once considered a “meal”, you are also supposed to wash your hands before the halachic way, that is, by pouring water from a vessel a few times on to each hand.  Nope, you don’t have to wash your hands (or even with soap for that matter) before eating that t-bone.

Though you can probably tell that I’m perplexed by the rabbis definition of “and you shall eat and be satisfied” in terms of what constitutes a halachic meal, it is interesting to inspect where some of the ritual comes from.

The blessing said over washing hands is not typical.  Before eating an apple, for instance, you say “Blessed are you Lord of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the tree.”  But after washing hands, you say al netilat yadayim, a blessing on the “lifting up of the hands,” not rochetz yadayim, the “washing of the hands.”

Keep kosher isn’t about eating unhealthy animals, and ritually washing hands before eating isn’t about sanitation.

Some people have a custom of therefore lifting their hands as they say this blessing, which is in commemoration of the ancient Temple service in which the Kohen was required to wash his hands before beginning rituals.

“When they enter the Tent of Meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die; or when they approach the altar to serve, to make a fire offering rise up in smoke to the Lord.” (Shmot/Exodus 30:20)

The table is like an altar.  Some families have the custom of always sharing a dvar Torah, some Torah teachings, in order to sanctify the meal and recognize it as such.


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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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