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Jul 23, 1997 - 12:26 -

I have a question:
I've just started attending an Orthodox shul rather than a Conservative one, and I noticed double sinks and wash cups by the entrance to the worship area (what IS the right word for that?). Why? And what's the appropriate blessing?

About me: Ailsa Murphy, studying for conversion (still not officially)
My e-mail address:
How I found this site: Followed a url posted in a post to SCJ.

Thank you for your question, Ailsa.

The sinks are for ritual handwashing in preparation for prayer. The blessing and procedure is the same as when washing hands at home:

Ba-ruch a-tah A-do-nai, E-lo-hei-nu, Me-lech Ha-o-lam,
a-sher ki-d'sha-nu b'mitz-vo-tav v'tsi-va-nu
al n'ti-lat ya-dai-yim.

Which means:

Magnify yourself HaShem, Our God, Sovereign over Space-Time,
who sets us apart through the commandments, and commanded us
concerning the elevation of the hands.

I have deliberately translated Baruch as an imperative (meaning to intensify or enlarge) rather than an accolade (Blessed, praised, or worshipped) as is more commonly done. It can connote both. Our acts, evidencing our partnership, empower the divine.

The sinks are also used by the Levites and Kohanim before duchening. In that case the Levite pours the water over the Kohein's hands.

There are many different relationships one can have with every mitzvah and every liturgical text. One way to experience handwashing is as follows:

Everything in material reality is animated by its correspondence with one of the ten sefirot, the divine attributes. Water (by virtue of its transparency) is associated with chesed (lovingkindness, best exemplified by good deeds done without hope or possibility of reward). Your hands represent what you do in this world. Gathering the water in the vessel is a marshalling of chesed, with which you charge your hands.

I hope this information is helpful.

--- Jordan