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The Foundation Stone Haggadah: Urchatz

First Washing of Hands – Without a Blessing

This is a different kind of washing because you wash without a bracha. Tonight I’m not going to focus on the halachic reasons as to why we wash, or why we wash without a bracha. But rather, we will try to see what it represents to us. In Tanach, washing is a metaphor for Teshuva. In this week’s Parsha, the Torah says that when the Kohanim come into the Temple, or the Tabernacle, they should “wash their hands with water, and then they won’t die.” The Midrash says that this means that they have to do Teshuva before they enter.

There are two washings in the Seder. At Urchatz, we wash without a bracha, and later before Motzei Matza we wash with a bracha. There are two stages in Teshuva. The first is, “Wow, I really blew it. I did something significantly wrong.” In this way, I focus on the big picture. That’s the first step of Teshuva. If that Teshuva is serious, the person will have to consider what led him to make that mistake. “What was it inside me?” Perhaps there are underlying issues. Maybe he wasn’t aware, or was giving in on a regular basis. There are different things. All of a sudden you realize, “Yes, I did Teshuva, but that Teshuva didn’t take me all the way. There is a second stage of Teshuva, and that is called Teshuva al haTeshuva. At that point, I realize that the Teshuva I had done before wasn’t enough.

Urchatz represents the first step of Teshuva. I wash my hands and I clean myself. If you think about this in the context of Kadesh, at least from the Or Hachaim’s perspective, washing the hands is a way of sanctifying ourselves. Or Hachaim reads Kadesh as God reaching out to us, and sanctifying us. The first thing that we do is to sanctify ourselves as well.

The book of Ezekiel constantly uses dirt as a metaphor for sins. God says, “I will cleanse you of your sins.” We say this a lot during Selichot and during Yom Kippur. The first step of Teshuva is not really a complete Teshuva. There are more steps that follow. Therefore at the first washing we don’t make a bracha. It’s only at the second washing, at the Teshuva al haTeshuva, we make a bracha having understood what has happened. In other words, I have gone through these steps at the Seder, I told over Magid and talked about the story, and I realize there is so much that I could be. I realize that there is something in me that is holding me back from being able to do it. In the same way I cleanse my house of chametz, I have to metaphorically cleanse myself of chametz as well. I have to understand that the Teshuva that I did in the first stage of the Seder wasn’t good enough, and that I must do it again. The moment a person realizes this, he washes his hands once more, and makes a bracha.

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