Torah

Vayakhel-Pekudei: The Most Precious Thing of All

March 11, 2010

Ours is a parsha of construction. First we account for the Mishkan materials [35:5-9]

Take [collect] from among yourselves a terumah-offering to Ad-noy. Every man whose heart impels him to generosity shall bring a terumah-offering to Ad-noy: gold, silver and copper, And greenish-blue wool, dark red wool, … incense of aromatic spices, and onyx stones, and stones for setting into the ephod and the breastplate.

Then we build it! [ibid, 10-19]

All those who are wise in heart among you shall come and make all that Ad-noy has commanded. The mishkan, its tent and its cover, .. The ark and its poles.. table and its poles.. The menorah for light.. The altar for burnt-offerings, .. the laver and its base… The covering cloths for the holy articles, and the sacred garments for Aharon the kohen,.

Yet one utensil, the kiyor [laver/basin] appears to come from a wholly different source [38:8]

He made the basin out of copper and its base out of copper, from the maros hatzovos [ mirrors of the women who had gathered] at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.

What are these mirrors? A famous Rashi gives us the background:

The daughters of Israel possessed mirrors .. Even those they did not withhold from bringing as a contribution for the mishkon. However, Moshe found them repulsive since their purpose is to incite the evil inclination. G-d said to him: Accept [them], for these are dearer to me than everything else because through them the women raised huge multitudes in Egypt.

When their husbands were exhausted from their crushing labor they (the women) would go and bring them food and drink and feed them. They would then take the mirrors and each one would look at herself and her husband in the mirror, and entice him with words, saying, “See! I am more beautiful than you,” thereby awakening their husbands’ desire and they would cohabit with them. They conceived and gave birth there. As is stated: “Under the apple-tree did I arouse you.” … The wash-basin was made out of them for it serves to bring about peace between a man and his wife, …

You can know yourself that these were actual mirrors, for it is stated: “The total copper donation was seventy kikar, etc. and he made from it,[ the sockets, the copper altar, all the vessels of the altar, etc.” 29-30]” whereas the wash-basin and its base are not mentioned there. Hence you have learned that the copper of the wash-basin was not from the donated copper.

It is this same episode that the Talmud refers to when it states:

In the merit of the righteous women were bnei Yisrael redeemed1

And yet while Hashem says these mirrors are most dear to Him, Moshe is initially repulsed by them. What is the “machlokes” (dispute) between God and Moshe?

Certainly, Moshe is articulating a reality.

A British paper 2 reports in certain parts of the country, Women admit to looking in the mirror 71 times a day – the national average hovering at about 34 peeks. For men, the number is about 27. Another article reports that while a, dog, cat or a horse wouldn’t realize that the image was a reflection of itself, great apes – chimps, gorillas and orangutans are capable of recognizing themselves in the mirror and when presented with the opportunity use mirrors to groom themselves, pick food out of their teeth and make faces at themselves for entertainment. [more or less the same reactions as humans]

Mirrors as pure vehicles of vanity, as body divorced from soul, don’t belong in the sanctuary. Moshe is correct; [bringing to mind how a colleague would often silence his boastful students’ bench-pressing exploits, by reminding them that “anything that a horse can do better than you is probably not worthy of adulation.”3

Yet Hashem deems the mirrors dearer than all.

In this notion we may find a blueprint for our engagement with the material world and a classic Jewish conception of yetzer hara (poorly translated as evil inclination)!

Consider that in our twice [thrice] daily recitation of Shema, we say: “And you shall love God bechol levavcha, with “all our hearts” which [and since we only have one heart,] Chazal understand to refer to our inclinations. God implores us to love Him with both our good (yetzer tov) and evil (yetzer hara) inclinations?!!

A famous Talmudic story is critical. The scene: Post the Temple destruction, Chazal pray to God for the Yetzer Hara’s capture:

They prayed for mercy, and he was handed over to them. God said to them: “Realize that if you kill him, the world goes down”. They imprisoned him for three days, then looked in the whole land of Israel for a fresh egg and could not find it. (for all of procreation had ceased even amongst the animals). Thereupon, the Rabbis said: “What shall we do now? Shall we kill him? The world would then go down.” [Yoma 69b]

In other words, we do not serve G-d with our spiritual nature while squelching our physical desires. That might be easier, more convenient and at times necessary in one’s spiritual development; the ultimate goal however is to consecrate every aspect of our existence. To paraphrase the Kotzker, we must let God in everywhere; we must strive “To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower”. In short, we must create holy harmony in all our worlds.

Is it not remarkable that the Hebrew word for sin, cheit, can also refer to spiritual immersion? Is it happenstance that verb form of cheit often refers to an off target arrow? Hardly, for sin is the misuse of one’s innate G-dly passion, an arrow that has missed its mark!

Moshe, Hashem says these mirrors were reflective of a great inner spirituality. Atop the kiyor, they serve as preparation and a reminder to the Kohen, that as he is about to engage in Avodah in the Temple, that everything can and be used to serve Hashem.

A final classic Talmudic story: [Menachos 44a]

R. Nathan said, Go and learn from the precept of tzitzit. Once a man, who was very scrupulous about the precept of tzitzit, heard of a certain harlot in one of the towns by the sea who accepted four hundred gold [dinars] for her hire. He sent her .. and appointed a day with her. When the day arrived .. her maid came and told her, ‘That man who sent you four hundred gold [dinars] is here and waiting at the door’; to which she replied ‘Let him come in’. .. she prepared for him seven beds, six of silver and one of gold; and between one bed and the other there were steps of silver, but the last were of gold. She then went up to the top bed … He too went up after her .. when all of a sudden the four fringes [of his garment] struck him across the face; … he sat upon the ground and she also sat upon the ground

“By the Roman Capitol, I will not leave you alone until you tell me what blemish you saw in me”. ‘By the Temple’, he replied, ‘never have I seen a woman as beautiful as you are; but there is one precept .. that God has commanded us, .. tzitzit, twice it is written ‘I am the Lord your God’ .. I am He who will exact punishment .. I am He who will give reward. Now [the tzitzit] appeared to me as four witnesses [testifying against me]’.

She said, ‘I will not leave you until you tell me your name, the name of your town, the name of your teacher, the name of your school in which you study the Torah’. He wrote all this down and handed it to her.

Thus the man summoned unbelievable power to resist temptation. He overcame his yetzer hara. That yetzer hara propelled him to the Beis Medrash where he learned with unbelievable passion. He channeled his yetzer hara. The woman is deeply moved by this4.

Thereupon she arose and divided her estate into three parts; one third for the government, one third to be distributed among the poor, and one third she took with her in her hand; the bed clothes, however, she retained. She then came to the Beth Hamidrash of R. Meir and said to him, ‘Master, give instructions about me that they make me a proselyte’. ‘My daughter’, he replied; ‘perhaps you have set your eyes on one of the disciples?’ She thereupon took out the script and handed it to him.

The stunning Talmudic conclusion. Rabbi Meir is moved by the woman’s sincerity:

Go’, said he ‘and enjoy your acquisition’. Those very bed-clothes which she had spread for him for an illicit purpose she now spread out for him lawfully.

Yetzer Hara, conquered, channeled and sublimated. To Hashem – there is nothing more dear in the world

FOOTNOTES:

1. Cf. Sotah 11b. And it is this role that ultimately makes them equally obligated in the positive mitzvos of Pesach – although this is a matter of dispute beyond matzah and the four cups.

2. Daily Mail, Nov. 5, 2007

3. Indeed the gemara calls a mirror a women’s garment – thus prohibiting men from adorning in front of it – even as the poskim say that this does not apply today, it is quite revealing.

4. Cf. Rashi Sanhedrin 31b for an amazing story of Nosson d’tzuzita

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.