Questioning faith in the parsha
Larchmont Temple—Har Chayim
The F*-WORD…[F _ _ _ _]…Questions, Conflicts & Connection of FAITH
CHEVRAH TORAH, 5772
VaYak’hel/Pekudai—Exod 38:8; 30:17-21
HOW is the creation of the kohanim’s laver a model of covenantal faith?
WHAT is it about the mirrors that help us see God’s Image & our sacred selves?
P’shat…The TEXT—HEARING ECHOES
Remez…The CONTEXT—FORGING FAITH
38:8 He made the copper laver and its stand from the mirrors of the women who performed tasks at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting
R’ S.R. HIRSCH…It is deeply significant that the vessel designated for “consecration of the hands and feet”—that is, dedicated to refining the animal instincts of man, should be made from such a common boudoir item as a woman’s mirror, drawing attention to the human body as an object of sexual desire.
SARNA… “Ha-Tsov’ot”—Nothing is known about them, mentioned only otherwise in I Samuel 2:22.
The Hebrew idiom “tsavo tsava” is also used of the Levites meaning “qualified for the work-force,” so its likely these women performed menial work. None of the ritual supports that they exercised any ritual or cultic function. The notion is that even these women at the bottom of the occupational-social scale displayed unselfish generosity and sacrificial devotion in donating their valuable bronze mirrors.
RAMBAN…We might, perhaps, take this in its “p’shat” sense, that the basin and stand made out of the mirrors of the women who crowded in “great host” [like “Adonai Ts’va’ot”] and assembled eagerly at the entrance of the Tent of meeting to give their free-will offering. The bronze of the mirrors was designated for this vessel because of its smooth, hollowed-out surface. When the women heard this they gathered with great enthusiasm to give.
TANCHUMA…When the Holy One told Moses to instruct Israel to make the mishkan, all the people came forward to contribute. Some brought silver, some onyx, others even gold…whereupon the women said: What have we to contribute? So they came, bringing their mirrors. However when Moses saw them, he was furious, saying to the Israelites: Break the legs of those who brought such mirrors to me! Replied the Holy One: Moses, do not look down upon them! It was these mirrors which raised up the hosts in Egypt. Take them and make out of them the basin and stand for purifying the Kohanim.
RASHI…The Israelite women had copper mirrors, which they used when they were adorning themselves. Despite this, they did not hesitate in bringing them as a contribution to the mishkan. Yet Moses rejected them as having been made for the purposes of the Evil Inclination. The Holy One told him: Accept them! These are dearest to Me of all. For by means of these very mirrors, the women produced vast legions of the Children of Israel in Egypt. [Read not HaTzov’ot—who gathered but rather HaTz’va’ot—who produced legions] When their husbands would be exhausted by the ruthless toil imposed upon them, these women would take them something to eat and would bring along the mirrors. Each would look at herself and then her husband in the mirror, enticing by saying: “I am better looking than you.” Thus would they arouse their husbands desire, have relations with them, and so conceive, bearing many children. As it is said: “Under the apple tree I roused you.” [Song 8:5] So our verse may be translated: “By means of the mirrors, the women made legions.”
IBN EZRA…The mirrors of the women who performed tasks. These were the skilled women who spun the 5 types of cloth mentioned. Or it may refer to the women who gathered regularly at the Tent to pray and study the commandments. They had abandoned all vanities of the world, hence, they gave up their mirrors, which they no longer needed. Ordinarily, women have no other occupation than to beautify their faces every morning in these mirrors, and to arrange their hats…
RAMBAN…The point of the Midrash given by RASHI is that, in every respect, the women’s jewelry was accepted for use…ONKELOS translates the phrase as “The women who gathered to pray,” which lends some credence to the explanation of IBN EZRA, who claims that they came each day to study the commandments. It may also be part of the “p’shat” to say it was a vast army who gathered to give their mirrors, voluntarily. It is also correct that they understood right from the start that this laver would be used, in addition to washing hands and feet of the kohanim, to test women who were suspected of adultery, and they still willingly brought their mirrors for this offering.
30:21 When they enter the Tent of meeting they shall wash their hands and feet, that they may not die…
ABARBANEL…Since all priests had to do this, not just those who offered sacrifice, it was not simply a matter of cleanliness…
RALBAG…It goes without saying, any ritual they perform without having washed from the laver is invalid.
D’rash…The SEARCH—CONFRONTING CHAOS…FINDING FAITH
NECHAMA LEIBOWITZ…Grammatically the word “tzov’ot” is explained as a transitive verb
in the sense that they “raise up the hosts of Israel” Symbolically the mirrors do not evoke the
triviality and vanity of their conventional use but the survivalist, life-giving purpose that
they served. The same instinct or impulse which can lead man to perversions, even destruction, can also lead him to creativity, the building of a house and the continuity of a nation.
Our Sages referred to this idea when they interpreted the double syllable word used for “heart—Levav” instead of a single syllable Lev in the text of the “V’ahavtah—and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” That is, love God “b’chol levav’cha—with both of your hearts,” or impulses, with the yester ha-tov and the yester ha-rah.
Reb Dov Be’er, The MAGGID of METZERITCH…
“and he made the brass laver…from the mirrors of the women assembling at the entrance of the tent of meeting”
Every person should look upon his fellow as if he is a mirror reflecting his own ugliness—
his basest instinct, and so he will know what to rectify within himself. Thus when a person sees
the faults of his neighbor, he should learn from them what to change within…So they made the
basin out of mirrors since the Kohanim, about to approach the Holy One, were obligated to
wash their hands, looking down into the basin—and into the mirror, into themselves…So would
this basin, made from the mirrors of the women, remind them that in order to perceive
one’s own failings, one must look at the mirror image in his neighbor, understanding, it is his own.
Sod…The REVELATION—RESPONDING to SINAI
Rabbi Larry KUSHNER…
… If God is everywhere, God is also in the perverse things we plan and even carry out. To be sure, God is less evident and less accessible than in acts of kindness, but in them, nevertheless. In the words of Rabbi Tsadok HaKohen, “God is present even in our sins.” Rejecting our sins only postpones the ultimate task of healing…Accepting ourselves, sins and all, is another way of finding God…
Rabbi Aryeh Leib, the Gerer Rebbe explains, since the form of Jacob is engraved on the Throne of Glory, then the effects of any earthly struggle with the Other Side must also impact the Throne on High. The battle is not between us and some independent power. The struggle goes on inside God. But the struggle is not against anything intrinsically evil…The unnamed night wrestler of Genesis 32 represents a dimension of ourselves that has been rejected and labeled as “evil other.” It comes back to injure and name us during the night. And since it is still a part of ourselves we cannot bear to acknowledge, when we sense it in someone else, we are all the more frightened and angry. Often, failing to find it in someone else, we project it onto them anyway. Hating something in someone else is easier than self-reproach. Once we realize that what we detest in another only wants to be taken back and loved, do we begin to diminish our own capacity for evil. By embracing what was never really “other” do we heal and redeem that “evil,” and in so doing heal ourselves, and God…
One final image…The early Hasidim developed a doctrine called “strange thoughts.” According to this teaching, one sure sign that we have attained a high level in prayer is that we will be assailed by embarrassingly wicked or impious thoughts. Our first inclination is to reject them at once, but as everyone knows, that only gives them greater power…We must, counsels the BA’AL SHEM, realize that such thoughts are, in reality, only rejected parts of ourselves, yearning for redemption.
As Rav Ya’akov Yosef of Polonye taught his students:
One must believe that “the whole world is filled with God’s Presence.” [Isaiah 6:3] And that “there is no place empty of God.” All human thoughts have within them the reality of God…When a strange or wicked thought arises within a person while he is engaged in prayer, it is coming to be elevated and repaired.
The goal, as the Hasidim say, is to… “find the root of love in the evil so as to sweeten evil and turn it into love.”…We go down into ourselves with a flashlight—looking for the evil we have intended or done—not to excise it as some alien growth, but rather to discover the holy spark within it. We begin not by rejecting the evil but by acknowledging it as something we meant to do. This is the only way we can truly raise it and redeem it.
…We lose our temper because we want things to be better right away. We gaze with lustful eyes because we have forgotten how to love the ones we want to love. We hoard material possessions because we imagine they will help us to live more fully. We turn a deaf ear, for we fear the pain of listening would kill us…At the bottom of such behavior was something that was once holy…
The conclusion of true teshuvah, returning to our Source, is not self-rejection but the healing that comes from telling ourselves the truth, and leads to self-acceptance….We no longer try to reject who we have been and therefore who we are…We receive whatever evils we have intended and done back into ourselves as our own deliberate creations…and thereby transform them, and so ourselves. [Eyes Remade For Wonder, Kushner, Jewish Lights, 2006, pgs 81-83]