During Shemoneh Esrei we come face to face with Hashem, and in respect to His grandeur, we should take every precaution that our presence is befitting while speaking to Him. A person’s face is literally the interface between himself and Hashem, and one should make sure that his appearance is fitting for this conversation. At night while sleeping one’s face can get dirty, and the Rambam writes that it is proper to wash it off before praying (Hilchos Tefillah 4,3).
It is interesting to note that the Shulchan Aruch does not cite washing one’s face as an obligation before tefillah. However, many Rishonim and poskim cite this as the halachah (Eshkol Hilchos Tefillah p. 6, Ra’avad ibid., Magen Avraham and Mishnah Berurah 4,1). Certainly if a person’s face got dirty during the night, he should wash himself beforehand in honor of Hashem.
After washing off one’s face, he should dry it well, for the Shulchan Aruch writes that “washing one’s face without drying it properly causes the skin to crack.” In a scenario where the skin has already cracked, the Shulchan Aruch recommends that one “should wash his face with beet juice and this will heal the cracking” (Shulchan Aruch 4,20). According to the Zohar, one should first dry off his hands before washing his face (Artzos Hachaim 4,72).
Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org