Netilat Yadayim on Waking Up for a Baby
Rabbanit Surale Rosen
She'elaI am up repeatedly in the night with a new baby. Do I need to wash Netilat Yadayim shel Shacharit every time I get up? If not, can I take a drink of water or eat something while I am up? If I am eating but have not washed, can/should I make a bracha?
First of all – Mazal Tov on your new born baby!
There are three main reasons given in the Poskim for Netilat Yadayim upon waking up in the morning. The question is whether these reasons apply for someone that wakes up during the night.
The Rosh (Brachot 9:23) comments on Gemara Brachot (60b), where it says that one should recite אשר קדשנו במצוותיו וצוונו על נטילת ידיים following washing our hands in the morning. The Rosh clarifies that the reason חכמים ruled that we should wash our hands in the morning is in preparation for קריאת שמע and the Amidah. Our hands, naturally busy, keep touching unclean parts of the body whilst sleeping and therefore need to be cleaned or, purified, before davening.
The Rashba (Teshuvat HaRashba 1:191) argues against the Rosh; he says that washing hands is in preparation for our service of Hashem throughout the day, not only for Shema and the Amidah. The reason we are doing it at the beginning of the day is because it’s as if we’re newly created. Similarly, the Kohanim, before they begin the Avodah in the Temple, wash their hands and feet.
The Beit Yosef discusses another reason mentioned in the Tur (4:1) – one should wash hands three times to remove the רוח רעה that is on our hands. The Beit Yosef quotes the source for this Halakha, from the Zohar on Parashat Vayeshev (184b) where it explains that since we experience a kind of ‘death’ at night while sleeping, the רעה רוח rests on our body. Upon waking we should make sure to remove it by washing our hands 3 times alternately since the רעה רוח that is on our hands is dangerous for different parts of our body (eyes, ears, mouth and others that have openings) and food (Gemarah Shabbat 108b). The Mishna Brura (4:13:28) brings a different understanding for the cause of רוח רעה that is not connected to whether a person sleeps or not, rather, that at nighttime there is רוח רעה anyway.
What then, should you do when attending the baby at night as far as washing the hands is concerned?
If you’re only waking to breastfeed the baby, then no Netilat Yadayim is necessary as long as you are careful not to touch the baby’s mouth or nostrils with your hands.
If a diaper change is needed or you are preparing a bottle, then you should wash your hands 3 times alternately because of רוח רעה. As shown in the Gemara, it is dangerous to touch particular parts of the body/food without removing the רעה רוח first. You need not say a Bracha since it is only recited when washing hands in the morning (Mishna Brura 4:2:8)
If you wish to eat or drink, you should wash 3 times alternately without a Bracha על נטילת ידיים and then say ברכת הנהנין before eating/drinking. If you only wish to drink and can’t get out of bed to wash your hands, you can rub them on your sheets/blanket and say a Bracha before drinking, as long as you’re careful not to touch the actual water (Shulchan Aruch 4:22,23)