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25.02.2019 20:09    Comments: 0    Categories: Weekly Parashah      Tags: torah  shabbat  parashah  shemot  vayakhel  vaknin  


“He made the laver of copper and its stand of copper, from the mirrors of the women who performed tasks at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting” (Ex. 38:8). What were these mirrors, these mar’ot tzov’ot, and how did they come to be in the Tabernacle? According to Midrash Tanhuma, these were the mirrors that the Israelite women had used in Egypt, and by means of which they had enticed their husbands to stimulate their desire for them, which had been suppressed by hard labor. The women thereby sought to maintain normal marital relations in a situation that was far from normal—a situation of cruel and harsh enslavement that broke down bodily and emotional strength. Therefore, the women's deeds are described in detail and with so much enthusiasm that even the Holy One, blessed be He, is portrayed as helping the women in their deeds:

They would take the mirrors and gaze at them with their husbands. She would say, “I am better looking than you,” and he would say, “I am handsomer than you,” and thus they would work up their desire and would be fruitful and multiply. The Holy One, blessed be He, would remember them forthwith…and by virtue of those same mirrors that they would show their husbands…despite all the hard labor, they made all those hosts [Heb. tzeva’ot].[1]

Such deeds are considered desirable feminine behavior, as the Gemara says: “A woman who solicits her husband to the [marital] obligation will have children the like of whom did not exist even in the generation of Moses.”[2] Moreover, sexual drive is even praised by the Rabbis:

Behold, it was very good refers to the Good Desire; and behold, it was very good, to the Evil Desire. Can then the Evil Desire be very good? That would be extraordinary! But for the Evil Desire, however, no man would build a house, take a wife and beget children.[3]

Good Desire and Evil Desire are not contradictory forces that contend in a person’s soul. Desire is one; it causes a person to build and create, as well as do evil and destroy. It can lead a person to that which is detested and impure, and it can lead to creating and building; the good cannot be separated from the bad because we are dealing with the same force itself. The emotional energy that pushes a person to acts of illicit sex is the same as that which pushes one to spiritual matters, as the sages of the Zohar concluded from this discussion: “Were it not for the Evil Desire, there would be no delight in Talmudic discussion.”[4] In other words, were it not for the Evil Desire, there would be no joy and pleasure taken in study. Both actions, creating and desiring, require the same drive. This is what the term libido in psychology signifies. Its primary sense is sexual energy, psycho-sexual, but its broader meaning is an inclusive term denoting the emotional energy that drives a person in the realm of spiritual action.

Thus Moses was commanded to take the mirrors, “which they would gaze at with their husbands,” and to fashion from them “a copper laver with a copper base, for the priests, from which they would consecrate themselves.”[5] In other words, all the sanctity for the sacred service the priests would draw from the laver, made of the copper of the mirrors used by those women. Scripture notes, exceptionally, whence the raw material came to make this object.[6]

The laver was also special in the manner in which it was made. Nahmanides says:

The point of this homily is that in all the work of the Tabernacle, jewelry was received from the women, as it is written, “and they came, both men and women” (Ex. 35:22). They brought brooches, earrings, rings and pendants (Heb. kumaz), and the kumaz, according to the commentary, was the most abhorred, but there all the contributions were mixed in together. But even to think of making a special vessel out of the jewel that was made for the Evil Desire—such a thing Moses would not choose to do, until the Almighty specifically instructed him.

Among the raw materials donated for making the Tabernacle were women’s jewelry, including the “most abhorred”—the kumaz which was interpreted as meaning “Kan (here) Mekom (is the place) Zimah (of unchastity).”[7] But they were swallowed up and mixed in with all the other materials. This, however, was not the case with the laver, for it was made entirely “out of the jewel made for the Evil Desire.”

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch says that the laver was the only one of the furnishings of the Tabernacle in which it was possible to identify clearly the raw material from which it was fashioned. The mirrors remained in their original form, unprocessed, not changed in shape, or melted down. He says:

It is deeply significant that the vessel of the Sanctuary which was to represent “the moral ‘keeping holy’ of one’s acts and efforts,” Kiddush yadayim ve-raglayim, was made out of the women’s mirrors. Mirrors are articles which lay stress on the physical bodily appearance of people being an object of special consideration. So that it was shown that the physical sensual side of human beings is not merely not excluded from the sphere which is to be sanctified by the Mikdosh, but that it is the first and most essential object of this sanctification. After all at rock bottom, as Man has complete free will in moral matters, it is just this side of human nature which is necessary to come under the influence of the Mikdash, if the sanctification of life which is aimed at, is to be achieved…The wording, mar’ot ha-tzov’ot, can even be meant to say that the copper mirrors were not melted down but that the laver was made up of the mirrors fitted together almost without any alteration at all, so that it was recognizable that the basin consisted actually of mirrors.[8]

The vessel intended for “keeping holy the hands and feet” was made of the women’s mirrors, which symbolized more than all else the sensuality and sexuality of human beings, and these mirrors were used in their original form, bringing them as such into the realm of sanctity. There was no need to refine them; they themselves were holy. Only through incorrect use or erroneous perception might a human being turn sensuality into something abhorrent, as Ramahal says: “Behold, all those things that concern intimacy between husband and wife are themselves holy of holies; but the folly of human beings turns them into the highest level of impurity.”[9] Both these aspects of Desire came together in the laver; the mar’ot tzov’ot symbolizing sanctification of desire, and the water in the laver, used in the trial of a woman suspected by her husband of adultery.[10]

The Maharam of Rothenburg[11] notes that the word tzov’ot occurs in Scripture only one other time, in the story about the sons of Eli the priest, officiating in the Tabernacle at Shiloh: “Now Eli was very old. When he heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who performed tasks at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting…” (I Sam. 2:22). This singular word points to a connection between the two stories. Regarding the actions of the sons of Eli, the Sages said: “Because they postponed their offering of doves, so that they did not return to their husbands, Scripture regards them as if they had lain with them.”[12] Offerings of doves refers to the pair of pigeons or doves which a poor woman would bring as a sacrificial offering to purify herself after childbirth. The sons of Eli would be lax in making these offerings, since the portion they received from such offerings was meagre, and would postpone these offerings, first offering those sacrifices in which they had a greater portion.

Generally a mirror is something into which a woman looks in order to seeherself, and with its aid she cultivates her looks. The midrash presents the mirrors as the vehicle through which the woman saw themselves and their husbands with them: they would “gaze at them with their husbands” and “they would show their husbands.” Their focus was on their husbands, not themselves. It was in this respect that the sons of Eli failed. Since they were so engrossed in looking out for their own benefit, they did not see the poor woman who stood before them, they put off her sacrificial offering, and delayed her return to her husband. The way Eli’s sons delayed the women, keeping them away from their husbands an entire night, was considered a grievous sin: since they prevented the women from cohabitating, Scripture relates to the sons of Eli as if they had raped those women.

Rav Kook, in his commentary on this question, points to the connection between worship in the Temple and the commandment to be fruitful and multiply: “Bringing the offering of two doves makes fit life, sanctifying it. Hence, how could the priest postpone offering the two doves? How could he make little of the main objective—peace in the home, calm and good relations, such as the Lord desires in His world.”[13] In other words, the sons of Eli marred the connection between husband and wife, and in so doing they also marred the connection between the sacred service and the sanctity of life.

The tsov’ot mirrors were used by the women when they consecrated themselves for relations with their husbands, and from them was fashioned the laver, used by the priests to consecrate themselves before officiating in the Sanctuary. Thus sacred worship connected with the sanctity of life.

Translated by Rachel Rowen


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