The halachah rules that one should wash his right hand first. The Zohar explains the deeper meaning of this practice. “A person should wash his right hand with his left, in order that the right [representing kindness] should overpower the left [representing justice]” (Vayeshev 184b).
However, in another section, the Zohar tells us: “The water for netilas yadayim should be taken with one’s right hand” (Terumah 154b). If the water is in the right hand, then the implication is that the left hand should be washed first. How can we understand this seeming contradiction?
In practice, these two passages are reconciled as follows: First, the cup of water is taken in the right hand, then it is passed to the left hand, showing that kindness (represented by the right hand) overpowers justice (represented by the left hand) (Shulchan Aruch 4,10). Washing the right hand first further demonstrates the superiority of kindness over justice (Mishnah Berurah 4,21). This simple symbolic action helps ensure that the attribute of Hashem’s kindness will be showered on us throughout the forthcoming day.
After pouring the water over the right hand, one should pass the cup back to the right hand and wash the left one. This process is repeated two more times, until each hand has been washed three times. After washing one’s hands, they should be stretched out and lifted up parallel to one’s head, and one recites the berachah of netilas yadayim (Mishnah Berurah 4,9).
Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org