The Power is in our Hands
“Our Rabbis taught: Rabbi Akiva was once confined in a prison-house and Rabbi Yehoshu’a the grits-maker was attending on him. Every day, a certain quantity of water was brought in to him. On one occasion he was met by the prison keeper who said to him, ‘Your water today is rather much; do you perhaps require it for undermining the prison?’ He poured out a half of it and handed to him the other half. When he came to Rabbi Akiva the latter said to him, ‘Yehoshu’a, do you not know that I am an old man and my life depends on yours?’ When he told him all that had happened [Rabbi Akiva] said to him, ‘Give me some water to wash my hands.’ ‘It will not suffice for drinking, will it suffice for washing your hands?’ ‘What can I do when one is liable to death? It is better that I should die my own death than neglect the knowledge of my Companions [who ordained the washing of hands before meals].’ It was related that he tasted nothing until the other had brought him water and he washed his hands. When the Sages heard of this incident they remarked: ‘If he was so in his old age how much more must he have been so in his youth; and if he was so in a prison-house how much more when not in a prison-house’” (BT Eruvin 21b).
“There is one who fears without knowing what he fears, because of sins that he did not recognize as sin, that he did not consider. It is he who fears days of evil (Psalms 49:6)—those days designated for the evil one. And who are they? This is the evil impulse, called evil one, who has certain days on which he is authorized in the world to lead astray all those who defile their ways, for one who comes to defile himself, they defile. So these are called days of evil, and they are assigned to those sins people trample underfoot [i.e., the iniquity of my heels (ibid.)].
Come and see: All those who defile their ways encounter bands of dazzling demons, defiling them. On the path one wishes to take, on precisely that path he is conducted. If a person comes to purify himself, how many are those who assist him [see BT Makkot 10b]!
We have learned that when a person rises in the morning, he should wash his hands from a receptacle of water—a vessel for pouring water—by means of someone who has already washed his hands, as has been established. Come and see: On account of this receptacle, we have established this matter [of ‘sins that people trample under foot’ i.e., seemingly insignificant misdeeds, peccadilloes, see BT Avodah Zarah 18a (in the name of Rabbi Shim’on son of Laqish); Tanḥuma, Eqev 1].
Further, a person should wash the right hand with the left; this is the purpose of washing. So one who washes his hands should wash right with left, so as not to provide any opening for the evil impulse to dominate, as we have established” (Zohar 1:198a–b).
“Water is from the right and it is joy. It immediately gives to the left, where that water cleaves, bringing joy. Then it is included in the right and arouses the Female with that joy. Your sign: one who takes water in a vessel with his right hand; the first to pour water is the left—and not from left to right, since water is received from the right by the left. Therefore, water is found only on the left….
After a person has eaten and enjoyed himself, he should give part of the remnants to that side. What is that? Fingerbowl water—that filth of the hands—for one must give that side the portion that he needs…. Consequently, one should not bless at all, for there is no blessing on that side” (Zohar 2:154b).
“Afflictions of the children of Adam (2 Samuel 7:14). These lure human beings at doorways, wells, and toilets. Therefore, if a person places the Holy Name at his doorway—if שַׁדַּי (Shaddai) is inscribed in its supernal crowns—they all flee far away from him, corresponding to what is written: No affliction will draw near your tent (Psalms 91:10). What is affliction? Afflictions of the children of Adam” (Zohar 3:76b).
“To wash the hands to the extent that the Sages decreed, namely five knots, which contain fourteen joints. Similarly there are fourteen joints in the left [יָד (yad), hand, is numerically equivalent to י״ד (fourteen)], making twenty-eight joints. And against these כ״ח (twenty-eight) ‘the כֹּחַ (koaḥ), power, of YHWH,’ and these are the twenty-eight letters of the first verse in the Works of Creation [see Genesis 1:1], and of them is written: And so, let the Lord’s כֹּחַ (koaḥ), power, pray, be great (Numbers 14:17). The ten fingers correspond to the ten acts of speech at the creation of the world [וַיֹּאמֶר (va’yomer), and He said, is counted ten times in Genesis 1, see M Avot 5:1]: For this reason, the Masters of Mishnah taught: ‘Whoever is careless over washing hands is uprooted from the world’ (BT Sotah 4b). Why is this? It is because the ten fingers of the hands and the twenty-eight joints of the fingers contain the mystery of the ten acts of speech and the twenty-eight letters with which the world was created” (Zohar 3:244b, Ra’aya Meheimna Pineḥas).
“Rabbi Pinḥas son of Ya’ir said: Study leads to precision, precision leads to zeal, zeal leads to cleanliness, cleanliness leads to restraint, restraint leads to purity, purity leads to holiness, holiness leads to meekness, meekness leads to fear of sin, fear of sin leads to saintliness, saintliness leads to the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit leads to revival of the dead” (BT Avodah Zarah 20b).