A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
by Rabbi Avi Weiss
23 Adar 5758, March 20-21, 1998
Why was the kiyor--the basin used by the priest to wash his hands and feet before serving
in the Temple--made from the mirrors used by women? (Exodus 38:8)
Ibn Ezra notes that mirrors were used by the women to "beautify themselves."
"But," adds Ibn Ezra, "there were pious women in Israel who overcame their
worldly temptation and freely gave away their mirrors."
For Ibn Ezra the kiyor came from these mirrors as they represented a denial of the
physical. Here, holiness according to Ibn Ezra is attained by rejecting
Rashi, quoting the Midrash, takes an opposite approach. The mirrors contributed for
the kiyor had been previously used by Jewish women to make themselves more attractive.
When the women brought the mirrors to the
Tabernacle, "Moshe (Moses) rejected them because they were made to satisfy the evil
inclination. Whereupon the Holy One Blessed Be He said to him, accept!
These are dearer to me than everything else, because
through them the women raised up countless hosts in Egypt. When their husbands were weary
from the hard labor, they would take the mirrors (to them in the fields).
Each one would look into the mirror together with her husband and egg him on with words
saying: I am more comely than you! In the course of this they would arouse
their husbands' desire and copulate, becoming pregnant and giving birth."
For Rashi even mirrors can be used for lofty purposes. The mirrors were instrumental
for Jewish continuity in Egypt, even as the mirrors helped sanctify the very basin used by
the priests to prepare themselves for the Temple service.
The message: There is nothing which is fundamentally unholy. Everything in the
world has the capacity to become holy. Even mirrors.
It is told that after being shown the Chabad women's dormitory, the Lubavitcher Rebbe
remarked that the dorm was beautiful but needed mirrors. An echo of things past; of
the kiyor made from mirrors.
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