“Within the vastness of Jewish law and Torah literature, there is a little-known halakhah called mayim achronim (מים אחרונים). It is often translated simply as ‘last waters’, though as with any Hebrew term it is a difficult one to decipher. At one point or another, you have likely seen the small vessel of water passed around the dinner table before birkat hamazon, the blessing after meals. A tiny amount of water is poured over the fingertips of each hand before being passed on to the next person. This simple procedure is known as mayim achronim.
That very simplicity is misleading, and may suggest that mayim achronim is a tiny, insignificant ritual. Perhaps this is the reason why many Jews tend to overlook it. However, a glance through Jewish writings both ancient and modern will reveal that mayim achronim carries tremendous importance—so much so that it was said to trump netilat yada’im (the washing of the hands before the meal), and in times past, some of our Sages even recited a special blessing for this act.”
(From the introduction of the book Mayim Achronim Chova – Secrets of the Last Waters)
What is mayim achronim?
Mayim achronim is the act of washing one’s hands at the end of the meal, before reciting the post-meal blessing known as birkat hamazon. It is supposed to be performed with cold water that is poured specifically into a vessel that can then be removed. One must wash at least up to the second knuckle of their fingers.
What is the significance of this little ritual?
Our Sages teach us that mayim achronim washes away something known as melach sdomit—“Sodomite salt”. By exploring various Jewish holy texts, it becomes evident that Sodomite salt is symbolic of the traits of the wicked city of Sodom, a place consumed with greed and inhospitality.
We are instructed to wash this negative energy away from our meal table, because it is at the very meal table where we are most susceptible to the negative forces present in Creation. The meal table is a place where we often over-indulge in our physical desires, expressing our gluttonous, animalistic greed. Where we frequently succumb to negative speech and gossip in the midst of dinner table conversation. Where we forget that eating has a spiritual purpose as well. It is here that we are most vulnerable to unholiness.
Mayim achronim is meant to remind us of our higher, spiritual selves. It is meant to elevate us to that Divine state in the Image of God in which we were fashioned.
Yet this is only the simplest of explanations. There is far more depth, thought, and complexity to this practice.
Mayim Achronim Chova – Secrets of the Last Waters is a short book journeying through the vast layers of meaning behind mayim achronim. Explore the origins and depths, laws, and customs of mayim achronim in the pages of this book.
Along the way, unravel some of Judaism’s most enigmatic and mysterious stories, including the destruction of Sodom and the transformation of Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt, the story of Kidor the innkeeper, and the four rabbis who entered the Heavenly realms of Pardes.
Discover the mystical dimensions of salt and water, the spiritual purposes of the meal table and the fingernails, as well as the power of hospitality and the nature of the Heavens. Learn the secrets of mayim achronim and see why the Jewish Sages insisted that this often-overlooked practice is mandatory for all—“mayim achronim chova”!
The bulk of the book’s contexts are available to be accessed and explored through the menu on the left. If you would like to order a hard copy of the book, click here.