On Touching Clothing before Washing Hands in the Morning
In this short article I want to examine the source for the statement in Shulchan Aruch Harav (Orach Chaim 1:7) that according to the Zohar it is forbidden to touch one’s clothing before washing hands in the morning.
אע"פ שמדין התלמוד אין צריך ליטול ידיו תיכף ומיד כשניעור משנתו אלא רשאי להלך בינתים וכן מותר מדין התלמוד ליגע במלבושיו קודם נטילת ידים מכל מקום חכמי הזוהר הזהירו מאד שלא לילך אפילו ד' אמות קודם נטילת ידים שחרית וכן הזהירו שלא ליגע במלבושיו קודם נטילת ידים וכל ירא שמים יחמיר לעצמו כדברי הזוהר וכל מדקדק במעשיו יזהר שמיד
שניעור משנתו יטול ידיו אע"פ שנשאר מושכב ובזה ינצל מהוצאת שכבת זרע לבטלה
Even though according to the Talmud one does not have to wash hands immediately after sleeping and he can walk [without washing hands], and also according to the Talmudic Law one can touch his clothes without washing hands, still the sages of the Zohar very seriously warn not to walk even four cubits before washing the hands in the morning and also they warned not to touch one’s clothing before washing hands and everyone who fears Heaven should be strict with himself according to the words of the Zohar …
Regarding the stringency of “walking four cubits” before washing hands in the morning, enough has been written and I will not concentrate on that. It is enough to say that this “prohibition” is not found in our versions of the Zohar and most people did not follow this until the last couple of centuries.
However while the stringency of not touching one’s clothes is brought in the name of a number of important books, this precise prohibition is not found in the Zohar. It seems that Baal Hatanya learns his stringency based on the following Zohar (1:53b):
הה"ד (במדבר יט יא) הנוגע במת וגו', ועל דא כיון דאיהו נטיל נשמתא וסאיב גופא, כדין אתייהיב רשו לכל אינון סטרי מסאבן לשריא עלוי, דהא ההוא גופא אסתאב מסטרא דההוא חויא בישא דשריא עלוי, ועל דא בכל אתר דההוא חויא בישא שארי, מסאב ליה ואסתאב. ותא חזי, כל בני עלמא בשעתא דניימי על ערסייהו בליליא, וליליא פריש גדפהא על כל בני עלמא, טעמי טעמא דמותא, ומגו דטעמי טעמא דמותא, האי רוחא מסאבא שטיא על עלמא, וסאיב (על) עלמא (ד"א ל"ג בגו קפטירא דיליה), ושריא על ידוי דבר נש ואסתאב, וכד אתער ואתהדר ליה נשמתיה, בכל מה דיקרב בידוי כולהו מסאבי, בגין דשריא עלייהו רוח מסאבא, ועל דא לא יסב בר נש מנוי לאלבשא ממאן דלא נטיל ידוי, דהא אמשיך עליה ההוא רוח מסאבא ואסתאב, ואית ליה רשו להאי רוח מסאבא לשריא בכל אתר דאשכח רשימו מסטריה, ועל דא לא יטול ידוי בר נש ממאן דלא נטיל ידוי
… therefore everyone who sleeps tastes the taste of death … and an evil spirit rests on his hands and makes him unclean and when he wakes up and his soul comes back to him whatever he touches with his hands becomes unclean since he has the unclean spirit that rests on him and therefore he should not take his clothes to be dressed from the one who didn’t wash hands, for unclean sprit is on them, and it has a right to rest on all places that it find appropriate from its side, and therefore he also should not allow his hands to be washed by the one who didn’t wash his own hands.
It would seem that this Zohar’s is parallel to the following Gemora in Berachot (51a):
אמר רבי ישמעאל בן אלישע שלשה דברים סח לי סוריאל שר הפנים אל תטול חלוקך בשחרית מיד השמש ותלבש ואל תטול ידיך ממי שלא נטל ידיו ואל תחזיר כוס אספרגוס אלא למי שנתנו לך מפני שתכספית ואמרי לה אסתלגנית של מלאכי חבלה מצפין לו לאדם ואומרים אימתי יבא אדם לידי אחד מדברים הללו וילכד
R. Yishmael ben Elisha says in the name of an angel not to do three things, because they are dangerous: Do not take your shirt from the hand of your attendant when dressing in the morning, and do not let water be poured over your hands by one who has not already washed his own hands, and do not return a cup of asparagus brew to anyone except the one who has handed it to you.
The reason why taking one’s garment from an attendant in the morning is dangerous is not specified and it seems that this has nothing to do with the attendant not washing hands. However the Zohar quoted above seems to understand that this prohibition it related to the attendant not washing hands. It seems that Shulchan Aruch Harav extrapolates that there is no difference between the attendant and the person himself and hence one should not even touch his own clothes before washing.
In conclusion, I’d like to mention how great is the influence of the Zohar (or anything quoted from the Zohar) on the Haredi community. It would be great if people spent at least as much time learning the laws of Lashon Hara and guarding their tongues as they do on learning the laws of washing hands in the morning and making sure to follow them!
 The authority who quoted this stringency is Sefer “Tolaat Yakov” by R. Meir Ibn Gabai. However it’s not clear if he mentioned this in the name of Zohar. Similarly for instance Magen Avraham and many other poskim including the Mishna Berura (in Siman 676) in the laws of Hanukkah quote in the name of Mahashal that the correct first vowel for “Shechecheyanu” blessing is hirik (Lizman Haze). This however appears grammatically incorrect since whenever the second word is with definite article “hazeh” the first also is “lazman” (and almost all siddurim except Chabad’s “Tehilat Hashem” have “lazman hazeh).” There are many examples of this in the Torah, like Bayom Hazeh, Lamoed Hazeh (see for instance notes to Mishna Berura from “Ish Matzliach”). It would seem strange that Maharshal who took pride in being a superb grammarian didn’t know this. If one examines the Magen Avraham’s quote, one can see that the book “Mate Moshe” that he brings, is not quoting Maharshal on this particular issue but on a different issue, and Magen Avraham misunderstood and thought this grammar rule is also brought in the name of Maharshal. Similarly one of the proposals is that that those quoting the stringency of not walking four cubits before washing hands incorrectly attributed it to the Zohar, though “Tolaat Yakov” didn’t actually quote the Zohar. Note also that Birke Yosef claims that he found this prohibition in some handwritten manuscript of the Zohar, but it is possible that it was inserted there afterwards as the copyist believed he is just restoring the missing part (see further discussion by R. Marc Shapiro on this blog).
 In general the Zohar seems to have a fixation on the issue of “Ruach Ra” (bad spirit) on the hands in the morning, and discusses this issue in many different places, (just as for instance the issue of getting up at midnight).
 See for instance Sh’vut Yakov 3:1, T’shuva Meahava 1:14. It seems that precisely because of the great authority of Zohar among Hassidim and Sephardim, and also because the Mishna Berura brings this stringency, that this is now accepted by most Haredim (and some people don’t even get out of bed until they wash their hands). The Aruch Hashulchan (4:14) says that “some are strict to follow the Zohar not walk 4 cubits before washing hands and it seems so from the Gemora (Berachot 60b) since it brings the blessing on washing hands together with other morning blessings [that used to be] made near the bed.” One difficulty with following this law is when one goes to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Interestingly, the opinion of R. Avraham David Wahrman from Buchach in the name of his Rebbe is that in such a case one is not required to wash hands (“Eshel Avraham”, 4, printed in the back of Vilna editions of Shulchan Aruch, not to be mistaken with other books by the same name). Similar position is taken by R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, (“Halichot Shlomo,” 13:16). Note that the leniency he brings to not even make the blessing of Asher Yatzar seems to only apply when one is not going to go to the bathroom when he wakes up and will therefore be able to make this blessing then (see Mishna Berura 4:3). Thus the reference to Halichot Shlomo in second chapter of “Piske Halacha” of R. M.D. Lebovits seems incorrect. However R. Yair Chaim Bachrach (“Mekor Haim,” 7:3) does permit one not to make Asher Yatzar when it is difficult to do this at night.
 Most poskim (Magen Avraham 4:1, Mishna Berura 4:2) bring it in the name of Seder Hayom (Birkat Hashachar), whereas the Ben Ish Chai (Toldot, 6) brings it from Arizal in Sefer Olat Tamid. I found it also in Pri Etz Chaim (Shaar Haberachot, 5, and Kaf Hachaim 4:24 also quotes this) and Reshit Chochma (Shaar Hakedusha, 5). The earliest source is probably “Tzava of Rabbi Eliezer Hagadol,” 10 as we will discuss below.
 See also Shaare Zohar from R. Reuven Margolis.
 Usually it’s assumed there were two people by this name although it seems most likely there was only one. The existence of the other was based on a mistaken assumption that two of the ten “Harugei Malchut” died not in R. Akiva’s time but more than fifty years earlier, during destruction of the Second Temple. Those two are assumed to be Rashbag (R. Shimon ben Gamliel) and R. Yishmael ben Elisha (assumed to be the grandfather of the second R. Yishmael, friend of R. Akiva). However “Dorot Harishonim” proves from numerous Hazal that R. Yishmael ben Elisha died around the same time as R. Akiva and therefore Rashbag is actually Rashbahag (R. Shimon ben Hasagan) and all the people called the “ten Haruge Malchut” were killed during Hadrianic persecutions (though Rashbag was probably also killed, possibly by the Zealots). It is also possible that the other “R. Yishmael Kohen Gadol” (mentioned in Berachot 7a) was (called there “ben Elisha”) was Yishmael ben Pabi (or Fabi) who is probably the same person as Yishmael ben Kimchit (see Maharsha, Yoma 47a, see also R. Reuven Margolis, “Leheker Shemot Vekinuim Betalmud,” 9-10).
 Below the Gemora also quotes the first two rules in the name of the “Angel of Death.”
 Some alcoholic drink that probably included fermented asparagus.
 All kinds of rituals were developed when drinking this beverage as the Gemora mentions earlier.
 I found in the notes to the new edition of Mishna Berura there is a reference that just as Pri Megadim (Eshel Avraham 158:17) was not sure if the prohibition of wiping one’s hands applies to any cloth or only “haluk” (robe or gown), so too here the same uncertainty applies. Certainly according to the Zohar there is no difference (see also Ben Ish Chai, ibid).
 Maybe it has to do with haughtiness like a king who is being dressed by others. See also Hashuke Hemed (Berachot, page 305) regarding whether a sick person can be lenient.
 It specifies unwashed hands only for the second dangerous action (see also Magen Avraham 4:1, Mishna Berura 4:2, see however Divre Yatziv, Orach Chaim 2).
 Maybe the Zohar follows a different girsa for that Braita. The same may be true from the Tzava of R. Eliezer Hagadol: אל תטול חלוקך ללבוש בלא נטילת ידים, לא מידך ולא מיד אחר שלא נטל ידיו, כי רוח הטמאה שורה בו. He is obviously basing his statement on this Gemora otherwise he could have said that nobody should touch clothing before washing hands.
 Since the reason of the Zohar is that everything touched becomes unclean. This however is arguable. One can say that just as the one washing his own hands can do so even though they were unclean before, but he is not supposed to have his hands washed by someone else, whose hands are unclean, so too while he shouldn’t take his clothing from someone who didn’t wash hands, maybe he can touch his own clothes before washing hands.
 It’s not clear what to do about pajamas that one definitely touches during nighttime (but in the time of Talmud they slept naked, see Shabbat 118b, so it was not an issue, see also Eshel Avraham ibid).
 The Gemora (Shabbat 109a) also prohibits touching certain things before washing hands. It’s not clear if this includes all foods and drinks (see Rashi Yoma 77b, but see Chae Adam 2:2; I would think that the food does not become forbidden at least after the fact, since the sages were able to buy foods from an Am Haaretz who presumably didn’t wash his hands properly.)