In last week’s post I discussed the symbolism behind lighting candles to welcome in the Sabbath at day’s close on Friday. This week I’ll share my contemplations around the meaning of washing our hands together before the meal.
Water, especially in the context of the Sabbath, represents baptism: repentance from our sins and being made new. We must be washed before we can take part in the meal, just as we must be made new before we can enter the Kingdom of God.
Jesus said, “Yes, indeed, I tell you that unless a person is born from water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” John 3:5 CJB
In this story, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must become like a newborn baby to be a part of God’s kingdom.
I am no Hebrew scholar, but I would like to share what I have read about the Hebrew letter mem. In the Hebrew language, you can search out the deeper meaning of a word or thought by understanding the letters that build it. Hebrew is different from English in this way. The letter mem, represented by a wave pictograph in antiquity, has several related meanings but primarily that of “water.” It also has a numerical value of 40.
Just as the earth was washed in water for forty days and nights during the flood in Noah’s day, so a baby is formed in a bag of waters over a period of forty weeks. We see also the forty years the people of Israel spent in the wilderness before entering the promised land, and the forty-day wilderness fast of Jesus before beginning his ministry.
It seems that in these instances, something is being purified and made new. In the waiting, something is about to be born.
Thus says Adonai, who made you,
formed you in the womb, and will help you:
“Don’t be afraid, Ya‘akov my servant,
Yeshurun, whom I have chosen.
For I will pour water on the thirsty land
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit on your descendants,
my blessing on your offspring.
They will spring up among the grass
like willows on the riverbanks.
One will say, ‘I belong to Adonai.’
Another will be called by the name of Ya‘akov.
Yet another will write that he belongs to Adonai.
and adopt the surname Isra’el.” Isaiah 44:2-5 CJB
As you wash your hands before the meal this Shabbat, consider the beautiful meaning behind the ritual. Each week we renew our repentance and admit that we are in need of being washed. Each week a chance to remember how Jesus has cleansed us and we are no longer sinners, but pure and spotless like newly born babies.
I wash my hands to Messiah, the hope of glory, to serve him only.