Moses thought it inappropriate to use mirrors, whose purpose was for women to beautify themselves, in the service of the holy Tabernacle. God told him he was wrong.
This week we have a “double” Torah portion: Vayakhel and Pekudei (Exodus 35:1 – 40:38) with which we conclude the book of Exodus!
In this week’s reading we continue to learn about the various utensils and furnishings in the Mishkan (Tabernacle), which was the portable sanctuary that accompanied the Jewish people in the desert. Towards the end of the first Torah portion, Vayakhel, we read about the copper laver. This laver was the basin from which the Kohanim, the Priests, would wash their hands and feet each day before performing the service in the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple.
‘Mirrors of the Legions’?
Let’s take a look at exactly what these basins were made of: “He made the laver of copper, and its base of copper, from the mirrors of the legions who massed at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.”
Our sages teach us that the laver and basin were not made from the regular delivery of donations that were given for the purpose of constructing the vessels of the Mishkan. The laver was made from brightly polished sheets of copper that the women had used as mirrors. That’s right. When the Jewish men were slaves in Egypt, and had no strength for intimacy at the end of their brutally hard long days, the women would beautify themselves in front of these mirrors in order to be attractive to their husbands.
Now Moses was reluctant to accept these mirrors for the construction of the laver. Moses thought that it would be inappropriate to use these mirrors, whose purpose was for women to beautify themselves, in the service of the holy Tabernacle. Moses felt that the sanctity of the Mishkan and intimacy between husband and wife just couldn’t mix.
God, however, told Moses that he was wrong. God explained to Moses that if it weren’t for these mirrors – if it weren’t for the women using these mirrors in order to make themselves attractive to their husbands – the Jewish people would not have survived in Egypt! The men were simply too exhausted and beaten at the end of their day of slave labor to invest any time in intimacy. They had no natural desires to do so. They hardly had a desire to eat – they merely wanted to get to sleep as fast as they could in order to have some strength for the next day’s repeat brutality.
God tells Moses that these mirrors are more beloved before Him than all the other donations received in the construction of the Mishkan. He tells Moses to accept them, and so Moses does. Indeed, theses mirrors, now lavers, continue to play a role in marital harmony in the service of the Mishkan, and later the Beit Hamikdash – a topic that is beyond the scope of this week’s Torah article.
The message is clear: In Judaism, we don’t believe that the many different facets of life of the human experience are separate or independent of one another – certainly not independent of our service of God. All areas of life can and must be used in the service of God. Whether it is a person’s kosher dietary decisions, a family outing to the synagogue to enjoy services together, or even the intimacy of a husband and wife – everything we do is part and parcel of the Jewish experience. And indeed, when we go about our routines from morning to night with the proper attitude, intention, and devotion, we ourselves become one big Mishkan – one big portable sanctuary dedicated to the service of God.
Shabbat Shalom from Israel!
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel