Water is a symbol of life, because it nourishes all living things. It is also a symbol of birth, as it reminds us of the fluids that accompany birth. It is used as a means of symbolic cleansing in a variety of settings. It is a traditional Jewish practice to wash our hands upon awakening by first taking a cup of water in one hand and pouring it over the other hand, then switching hands and repeating the process. (Some people do this three times for each hand.) Ritually anointing our hand is a symbol of the renewal of creation as well as a spiritual cleansing in preparation for the work of the new day.

In addition to the traditional prayer, we may add a kavanah, a word or concept, a poem or meditation, or even a chant, to "direct" our attention to the extraordinary holiness of an ordinary moment. The word kavanah has the inner meaning of "direction" or "intention," but a better translation for English speakers is "a focus."


Water flows over these hands
May I use them skillfully
as I construct and shape this day [based on a prayer by Thich Nhat Hanh]
Or: . . .
"May the favor of Adonai our God be upon us, let the work of our hands prosper, O prosper the work of our hands!" [Psalm 90:17]
While slowly drying your hands, recite the berakhah/blessing: . . .
"Praised are You, Eternal One, our God, source of the universe, who has made us holy through the commandments and commanded us concerning the washing of hands."

Michael Strassfeld in A Book of Life