Former Shaliach in Chicago
One of the vessels mentioned in this week’s Parsha and the material from which it was made is the kiyor- laver, as it says, “And he made the laver of copper and its base of copper from the mirrors of the women who gathered at the opening of the Tent of Meeting (Shmot 38,8).” It is perplexing that the kiyorwas not mentioned together with the other vessels of the Mishkan which are enumerated in Parshat Teruma, but is only first cited in Parshat Ki Tisa?!
The Chizkuni explains that the reason the laver is not mentioned with the other vessels is, “The kiyoris not but a hechsher mitzvah – – the preparation for a mitzvah (Shmot 30, 18).” His intention is that before a cohen enters the Mishkan to perform any part of the ritual service, he must sanctify himself for this avodat HaShem. One’s hands are “busy” and require extra cleansing. So, too, the cohen’s feet required washing since the cohanim perform barefooted in the Mishkan (Ramban, Shmot 30:19). Another difference between the kiyorand the other vessels is the particular sourcing for each one.
In Parshat VaYakhel appears the list of all of the vessels made from copper: the sockets for the [beams of the] opening of the Tent of Meeting, the copper altar, its trim, and its instruments, the sockets for the [beams of the] courtyard and its gate, all of the pegs of the Mishkan, and of the courtyard (shmot 38: 29-31). Abarbanel is troubled by the omission of the kiyorand its base from this seemingly comprehensive list!? He answers that this list only mentions those items made from the general donation of copper. The washing basin was made from the special gift of the Nashim Ha’tzov’ot – the women who gathered at the opening of the Tent of Meeting.
What were those special mirrors that the women donated? The Midrash Tanchuma explains: When the Jewish people were in Egypt, Pharaoh decreed that they should not sleep in their homes and not procreate… The women would go out to the fields where they would feed and give wine to their husbands. Then they would take out the mirrors and challenge their husbands as to who was more beautiful. In this manner they would entice their husbands. The Almighty would bestow his countenance upon them and they would have children. In the merit of the mirrors that the wives used to entice their spouses in spite of the horrific conditions of Egyptian servitude, G-d increased the “hosts”/Tzva’ot – the multitudes of the Jewish people.
When G-d commanded Moshe to build the Mishkan all the men quickly brought the necessary materials. The women asked, “What can we bring?” They decided to bring the copper mirrors. Moshe was angered by their offer. G-d challenged, “Why will you not accept them?! These were the very means by which the Jewish people multiplied in Egypt! Take them and make the laver from which the cohanim will sanctify themselves.”
According to this Midrash Tanchuma one can explain why the women contributed specifically to the laver. The mirrors and the laver both teach us the same lesson: Any physical material in the world can be used for holiness or the opposite! Moshe did not agree to accept the mirrors from the women because they were used to glorify human beauty. However, those women utilized the mirrors to bring the plenitudes of Jews into the world, and, therefore were called Mar’ot Tzov’ot . A similar idea animates the laver. Its water could either be used for a spiritual purpose to purify the priests for the service in the Mishkan or they would be given to drink to a sota to test if she had been unfaithful.
It is possible to link this idea to Parshat Shekalim that we are reading this Shabbat. It is known that the mitzva of shekalim was not given only as a one-time command to count the Jewish people. Rather, it was given for all generations in which the Beit HaMikdash stood as an obligation to each and every Jew to give a half shekel for the sake of the public sacrifices. Since the public sacrifices needed to be purchased from the new donations as of Rosh Chodesh Nisan, the declaration of the bringing of theshekalim was done the month before in Adar.
Rabbi S.R. Hirsch suggests an additional dimension to this mitzvah: “Now the word of G-d comes to explain the relationship of the Jews to the Mishkan. The existence of the Mishkan and the Jewish nation are not two separate entities (Chapter 30:11).” That is to say that by virtue of our contribution of money for the purchase of the public sacrifices we transform it into something holy and it makes us partners in the dynamic of the Mishkan.
On the other hand, one could use the money for something negative as Reish Lakish in Masechet Megilla 13b says, “It was revealed and known before the One Who Spoke and the world came into being that Haman would weigh silver talents against Israel. Therefore, G-d preempted him by having the Jewish people donate their shekalim!” Once again, the same concept – that the same shekalim the Jewish people used to build the Mishkan, Haman wanted to use to destroy them!In conclusion, every material in the universe can be transformed into something spiritual or chas veshalom, an impure entity. Everything depends on the purpose for which we choose to develop it! May we always merit to sanctify our world and not to defile it!