By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
24 Adar I 5765 - March 4, 2005
In the description of the actual construction
of the Mishkan, we are given a careful accounting of the precious metals donated
for this national project to bring Hashem’s Presence into the community of
Israel, and how these donations were used.
Concerning the copper Basin (Kiyor), however, the donations came from a separate
And he made the Basin (KIYOR) of copper and its stand of copper, from the
mirrors of the women who crowded at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting (Shemot
A number of suggestions are offered to explain this exception (see Nechama
Leibowitz’s fine discussion on the different views of our commentaries).
The simplest explanation might be that of Haamek Davar (R. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah
Berlin, 1817-1893). Here is the Torah’s first presentation of the Kiyor:
And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: “And you shall make a basin (KIYOR) of copper
and its stand of copper for washing (L’ROCHTZAH) and you shall place it between
the Tent of Meeting and the Altar; and you shall put water into it. And Aharon
and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet from it . When they come to
the Tent of Meeting they shall wash with water, so that they do not die, or when
they approach the Altar to serve, to raise up in smoke a fire-offering to Hashem.
And they shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they do not die. And it
shall be for them an eternal statute, for him and his offspring for their
generations” (Shemot 30:17-21).
The Kiyor had not been mentioned earlier with the other vessels of the Mishkan,
says Haamek Davar,
“because all other vessels are for the sanctification of the service. But this
utensil, even though it sanctifies the water, nevertheless it is only to
sanctify the person for the purpose of doing the service, or to enable him to
enter the Sanctuary.”
The Kiyor is essentially a means to an end; the main issue is the washing. In
fact, although it is the ideal receptacle for this purpose, it is not
indispensable. This explains why the instructions for the Kiyor are given
separately, and why the copper for its construction comes from a separate source
(see also Sforno, R. Ovadia ben Yaakov Sforno, c. 1470-c.1550).
This washing is not cleansing, or purification, but an act of sanctification.
Throughout the Torah, Onkelos translates the verb R-CH-TZ as “wash” (in Aramaic,
AS’CHEI); here however, Onkelos translates L’ROCHTZAH as L’KIDDUSH, for
sanctification. A kohen is obligated to “sanctify” his hands and feet, even if
he was purified by immersion in a mikvah.
Rambam discusses this in “Laws of Entering the Sanctuary”, Chapter 5:
10. It is a mitzvah to sanctify from the waters of the Kiyor, but if one
sanctified from one of the [holy] service vessels, this is valid; but profane
vessels cannot be used for sanctification. …And one does not sanctify within the
Kiyor or within a service vessel, but from them [emphasis added].
16. How was the mitzvah of sanctification done? He places his right hand on top
of his right foot and his left hand on top of his left foot, and bends over and
Like all Temple requirements, the sanctification must be done standing, so the
Kiyor had spigots from which the water would flow over the kohen’s hands and
Rambam also says (ibid.):
1. It is a positive commandment for a kohen who serves to sanctify his hands and
his feet, and afterwards to do the service. …And a kohen who served without
sanctifying his hands and feet in the morning is liable for death at the hands
of heaven. …And his service is disqualified, whether he is the High Priest or a
(See also Sefer HaMitzvot, positive commandment # 24.) A kohen does not need to
re-wash his hands and feet during the rest of the day, unless he leaves the
Sanctuary, sleeps, urinates, or is otherwise distracted. Nevertheless, even if
he remains awake all night, he must “sanctify” his hands and feet the next day.
In defining this mitzvah, Sefer HaChinuch (ascribed to either R. Aharon HaLevi
or R. Pinchas HaLevi of Barcelona, mid-13th Century) says (§ 106):
“To wash the hands and the feet at any time of entering the Heichal (the holy
inner building in the Temple), as well as one who comes to do the service in the
This, says Haamek Davar, is in line with the view of Rambam (and unlike the view
of Tosafot in Yoma 5b and Sanhedrin 83a): that one is required to “sanctify” his
hands and feet when entering the Heichal, even if it is not for the purpose of
doing service. His source is the mishnah in Kelim (1:9) that describes the
sanctity of the Heichal, which is only one step lower than that of the Holy of
“The Heichal, … one did not enter there unless he was washed, hands and feet.”
Accordingly, Haamek Davar explains a later anomaly:
And he placed the Basin (KIYOR) between the Tent of Meeting and the Altar, and
there he put water for washing. And Moshe, Aharon and his sons washed their
hands and feet from it. When they came to the Tent of Meeting and when they
approached the Altar they would wash, as Hashem commanded Moshe (40:30-32).
Since “sanctifying” is required for anyone who enters, even without service,
then even Moshe would do so whenever he entered the Tent of Meeting to
communicate with Hashem.
Ramban explains that those who enter the Sanctuary are bidden to sanctify the
two extremities of the body, the hands and the feet, referring to the highest
and lowest part of the human form. The total person, from his basest needs to
his loftiest potentials, are devoted to Hashem.
And this is done with a man-made vessel. Over and above Divine Providence, man’s
own efforts can transform him into a sanctified being.
In the beginning of the parsha, we read: "On six days shall work be done,
but the seventh day shall be holy for you…" The passive form suggests that
the work will be done by itself. The commentators explain that when Israel
fulfills the will of the Almighty, their work will be done for them by
others. A Jew’s profession, as the prophet Yonah said to the sailors, is "Ivri
anochi" – I am a Jew. A Jew is occupied but not preoccupied by his worldy
activities. "If you will eat the labor of your hands, you will be happy
and it will be well with you ( Psalms 128:2).” A Chassidic interpretation
stresses that man’s labor should be of his "hands" – an external activity
that does not require inner involvement. True, the Jew works, but his
thoughts remain bound up with the Torah and its commandments. He performs
practical tasks with the intent of creating a "vessel" into which God can
pour His blessings.
Regarding Chanoch (of whom it is related in Bereishit 5:22 that he “went
with God”) the Sefer Midrash Talpiot says that he was a cobbler, and that
"he achieved mystical unions with his Creator with every stitch." The
“mystical unions" were nothing more than the concentration he lavished on
each and every stitch to ensure that it would be good and strong so that
the shoes would give maximum pleasure to the wearer. Chanoch thus achieved
union with the attribute of his Creator who lavishes His goodness and
beneficence to all.
In Israel, the tiniest bit of work is a contribution to the Land and its
People. The seed of faith blossoms dramatically here. The impossible
becomes possible, the difficult easy. Just as the Land itself is compared
to a deer’s skin that stretches, one's money stretches in miraculous ways.
Believe it and take the leap! Now!
Leave the “ How “ to God.
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North
American Rabbis and laymen who successfully made Aliyah, aimed at
highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting Aliyah. They send
emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on speaking-tours
throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness ,
Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254