the bottomline

I Finally Learned How to Wash My Hands
Monday, April 13, 2020 by Dan Allen

It only took me until I became a young senior citizen and a worldwide pandemic to learn how to properly wash my hands. I’ve always been a splash–washer—dab of soap, splash some water over my hands to get rid of the soap, and dry off. If it took more than 3–seconds, then my hand must have slipped off the faucet because there was soap still on it.

I used to joke with people at the double sinks in Cracker Barrel who meticulously washed their hands. “Going into an operating theater?” I’d ask. Sometimes they’d chuckle, but most times they had no idea what I was talking about. 

But with the virus we’ve been strongly encouraged to sing “Happy Birthday” or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” twice to complete the hand washing in 20-seconds. I’ve changed the tune to “Our God is an Awesome God” which, if sung twice, will get you just past the 20–second rule. I’m only able to do it once. By then the soap is gone and I’m afraid I’ll start washing off skin.

Long before Global Handwashing Day (October 15), hand–washing champion and enthusiast, Florence Nightingale, and Ignaz Semmelweis—the father of hand hygiene, the Jewish religion promoted the washing of hands more for rituals, but it also had practical, hygienic purposes as well. Washing hands prior to eating bread originated with the rabbis of the Talmud. You might recall some religious leaders livid with Jesus because his disciples didn’t wash their hands.“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat” (Matthew 15:2). But, like in many things for all of us, these guys took this to extremes. Supposedly, a talmudic sage equating not washing hands before eating with having sex with a prostitute. Really?

For ritual hand washing the custom was to pour water from a vessel twice on the right hand and then the left, unless you were left–handed. Hasidic custom has one pouring three times on each hand.

Probably the most infamous hand washer was a Roman prefect by the name of Pilate. He was doing so not because he was about to eat, but symbolically to suggest he wasn’t accepting any guilt over handing Jesus over to be crucified. That didn’t work.

But I should backup to Jesus lambasting the Religious Leaders for their hand washing before meals. Was He against personal hygiene? No. He was railing against the ridiculous and onerous rules they were forcing on people. Washing the outside of the body had its place, but the inside is what mattered from a spiritual standpoint.

Perhaps we could kill two birds with one stone by praying while we wash our hands. A slow rendition of the Lord’s Prayer would work, but just communicating with God would be healthy—physically and spiritually.


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