07 – Waking in the Middle of the Night to Tend to a Baby or for Any Other Reason

https://ph.yhb.org.il/en/02-08-07/

Parents who wake up in the middle of the night in order to cover their children or give them a pacifier, in principle need not wash their hands because covering a child or putting a pacifier in his mouth does not require touching the child’s mouth or any other bodily orifice.

However, if one wakes up to prepare food for the child or change the child’s diaper, it is proper to wash one’s hands prior to that, in order not to touch food or one of the child’s bodily orifices with unwashed hands. Likewise, it is proper that a woman who wakes up in the middle of the night to nurse her child wash her hands before starting. However, if it is very difficult for her to go wash her hands, she may rely on the lenient opinions that do not obligate one who awakens in the middle of the night to wash his or her hands (Eshel Avraham Butshatsh 4:1; see also halachah 4 which mentions that some say that nowadays the ruach ra’ah does not exist). In any case, according to all opinions, no berachah is recited on washing performed in the middle of the night because the Chachamim instituted a berachah only on the morning washing, which prepares us for prayer and the new day.

L’chatchilah it is proper that a person who wakes up in the middle of the night to drink wash his hands three times before reciting Shehakol. Similarly, it is proper that one who wakes up in the middle of the night to relieve himself wash his hands three times so that he can touch his bodily orifices without concern. After relieving himself, he must wash his hands so that he may recite Asher Yatzar. If he wishes, he may refrain from washing his hands prior to relieving himself in the middle of the night, by relying on the opinion of those poskim who maintain that a person only needs to wash his hands three times after rising in the morning. However, after relieving himself, he must wash his hands in order to recite Asher Yatzar. If he does not have water, he must clean his hands, for example by rubbing them on his shirt, and then recite Asher Yatzar (Shulchan Aruch 4:22).[6]


[6]. The Shulchan Aruch 4:14-15 maintains that every regular sleep at night brings the ruach ra’ah and one must wash his hands three times alternately. Even so, in the cases above, I wrote “it is proper” because the Eshel Avraham writes in the name of his father-in-law (as brought in note 4) that the ruach ra’ah exists only after waking up in the morning. Many who have become accustomed not to wash their hands when they arise in the middle of the night rely on this. The basis for Eshel Avraham’s words is found in the Beit Yosef (4:14-15) who writes that there is concern that at alot hashachar the ruach ra’ah may rest even upon those who were awake all night. The opinion of most kabbalists, according to the Ari, is that the ruach ra’ah only lingers after a person sleeps through chatzot, but if one went to sleep after chatzot, the ruach ra’ah does not rest upon his hands. Moreover, even if a person who slept through chatzot already woke up once after chatzot and washed his hands three times, the ruach ra’ah does not rest upon his hands a second time. Hence, according to this, it is not necessary to wash one’s hands three times upon every waking at night. In addition to this, there are those who say that nowadays the ruach ra’ah does not exist. Therefore, only one who wakes up in the morning must be careful to wash his hands three times because the source for this stems from the Talmud. However, beyond that, concerning waking up in the middle of the night, it is not an obligation to wash one’s hands, though it is proper to do so. Those who practice according to Kabbalah must ensure that the first time they wake up after chatzot they wash three times. Also from the standpoint of Birkat Shehakol, it is proper to wash one’s hands, but it is not an obligation, as explained in the Shulchan Aruch 4:23. Even if he touched normally covered parts of his body, he can suffice with rubbing his hands on a cloth of some sort, as clarified in the Mishnah Berurah 4:61. Similarly, before relieving oneself, it is advisable to wash one’s hands because of the ruach ra’ah, but it is not an obligation, as clarified above. Additionally, see the opinion of Rav Ovadyah Yosef in note 2.
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