Sunday, February 24, 2008

Vayakhel, Shemos 38:8. The Mar’os Hatzov’os and the Kiyor. Drasha for Sheva Brachos (#8)

Women came to Moshe Rabbeinu and offered to donate their mirrors for use in the building of the Mishkan.

Rashi says that Moshe Rabbeinu initially refused to take them, because he considered them inappropriate for the Mishkan. (Although he had already accepted other intimate jewelry, the Kumozos, those were merely a minor ingredient of the keilim in which they were used, whereas here the Mar’os Hatzov’os were to be the only source of the raw material used in fabricating the Kiyor {Ramban.})

But Hashem told Moshe that when the Jewish men in Egypt were demoralized and exhausted and bitter, they were for all practical purposes emasculated, and they had no physical relationship with their wives. But the women would take out their mirrors, and sit next to their husbands and look at their reflections in the mirrors, and they would say, “I’m so much prettier than you are!” and they would slowly re-awaken their husbands’ interest in marital relations. This ultimately generated the great number of Bnei Yisroel that experienced the Geulah. These mirrors, said Hashem, are more precious than any other nedavah, and Moshe certainly should accept them and use them.

Rabbeinu Bachaye and the Ramban here bring the Chazal quoted by Rashi. Then, they bring “Rebbi Avrohom,” the Ibn Ezra, who says (as is also clearly stated in Onkelos) that these women were ‘tzov’os pesach ohel mo’eid’, because all they did all day was stand near the Mishkan and daven, and they had completely abandoned all interest in cosmetics and foolishness, and this is why they donated their mirrors, because they had no use for or interest in them. The two explanations seems utterly contradictory. The first pshat indicates that these mirrors were holy because of their role in contributing to marital relationship. The second seems to say that they had been abandoned by their owners, who now spent all their time in purely spiritual activity, and they no longer had any connection to their original use.

But there really is no contradiction. Two women could use the mirrors in exactly the same way, to enhance their marital relationship with their husbands, and have completely different motivations. The one who sees her relationship with her husband as a spiritual bond, and who sees their marital relationship as a means of generating the spiritual elevation through their love, and to create a spirit of simcha and hope into him, is kodesh. If the relationship is an egoistic arrangement which serves the hedonistic impulse, it’s not kodesh at all. The way to tell the difference is to see how they act when they get older. When they come to a point where they are free of the duties of raising children and running a household, and when the physical drives naturally diminish, what do they do with their time? Some will be at wits' end, and not know what to do with themselves. These women will desperately embark on a grotesque and pathetic odyssey, trying to resuscitate the appearance and follies of youth. When this becomes too bizarre even for them, Mahjong and shopping and soap opera will fill the vacuum. But others will find the change liberates them to give expression to the holiness that always dwelled within them, and they will spend their time in saying tehillim and other pursuits that enable them to come to a state of dveikus with dvarim shebikdushoh. The Mar’os Hatzov’os of such women are holy.

R’ Hirsch says that it is particularly fitting that the kiyor was used to wash the hands and feet, because this symbolizes being m’kadeish one’s actions and behavior. A person can, through dedication to Hashem’s will, infuse with Kedusha and transform the most mundane or prosaic or even sensual activity. One’s work, or play, or eating, or marital relations, can and should be elements in avodas Hashem, and thereby changed in character from gashmi to ruchni.

Many people think of these parshios as repetitive, arcane, and so obscure as to be boring. In fact, however, these parshios teach us the most important lessons about the meaning and importance of true love. There is the lesson of the Mar'os Hatzov'os, as explained above. And remember, the Shechina spoke to Moshe from the space between the kruvim, which were the images of a young man and woman. What exists in the space between a husband and a wife as they look at each other? That space holds their love for each other, and that is where the Shechina appeared, because, as Chazal say, bizman shehashalom beineihem, Shechina beineihem. They become the Keruvim, and their home is filled with the spirit of holiness. But this is only true when the Keruvim stand atop the Aron Kodesh, which contains the Torah. The Kiyor and the Aron Hakodesh teach us that a loving relationship between husband and wife that is based on the Torah is the conduit of bringing Hashro’as Hashchina to Klal Yisroel.

I just saw this, from Bar Ilan. I liked the way it is written, and I give it to you in the original. (The only little he'ara I want to make is that the Magen Avraham in OC 147 sk5 says that to resolve the problem of v'yitnu li requiring that the material have never been in personal use and the donation of jewelry and the mar'os we have to say that they underwent a shinui tzura -
ועוד נ"ל דוקא כמות שהן אסור להשתמש בהן אבל אם שינה צורתן ועש' מהן כלי אחר שרי דהרי הכיור נעשה ממראות הצובאות)

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The Laver:  Sacred Worship and the Sanctity of Life
By Rafi Vaknin[1]*
“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].[2]
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.”[3]  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.[4]
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.”[5]  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.”[6]  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.[7]
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).”[8]  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.[9]
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.”[10]  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.[11]
The Maharam of Rothenburg[12] 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.”[13]  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 see herself, 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.”[14]  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

[1] Eruvin 100b.
[2] Genesis Rabbah (Theodore-Albeck) 9.7, Soncino ed., p. 68.
[3] Midrash ha-Ne`elam, Vol. 1 (Bereshit), Parashat Toledot 138a.
[4] Tanhuma (Warsaw ed.), Pekudei, 9.
[5] Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, Sihot le-Sefer Shemot, Beit El 1992, p. 385.
[6] Shabbat 64a.
[7] Samson Raphael Hirsch, commentary on Ex. 38:8, trans. Dr. Isaac Levy, p. 692.
[8] Yalkut Yedi`ot ha-Emet 2, Tel Aviv 1965, p. 321.
[9] Numbers Rabbah (Vilna ed.) 9.14, and in abbreviated form in Rashi’s commentary on Numbers 5:17.
[10] His commentary can be found in Torat Hayyim Pentateuch.
[11] Shabbat 55b.
[12] Ein Ayah, Shabbat 2, Jerusalem 2000, p. 50.


Posted on March 8, 2018 (5778) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series:  | Level: 
These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: CD #1024 – Turning Old Dress Into Cover for a Sefer Torah? Good Shabbos!

The Torah tells us that the women donated their mirrors to the Mishkan building fund, and the mirrors were used to make the base of the Kiyor [Laver]. Rashi quotes Chazal that initially Moshe was hesitant to take this donation, because he felt that mirrors were a tool of the Yetzer Ha’rah [evil inclination]. Rashi uses a very strong expression. Not only did Moshe Rabbeinu reject these mirrors, “he was repelled by them” (haya mo’ays bahem). “How can the mirrors — which are made for sensual purposes — be used for a spiritual purpose in the Mishkan?” But the Almighty overrode Moshe’s objections, also using a very strong expression in instructing him: “Accept them; for they are more precious to Me than any other donation!”
Rashi explains that in Mitzraim, the men did not want to engage in the act of procreation, because they felt they were in a futile situation where it was not worth bringing additional Jewish children into the world. The women were not so pessimistic. They used their mirrors to beautify themselves, went out into the field, and enticed their husbands. As a result, the Jewish population continued to increase. By virtue of the fact that these mirrors were used for such a positive purpose, the Almighty told Moshe that He considered them to be the dearest donation of the entire Mishkan fundraising effort.
I saw an interesting question raised by Rav Dovid Kviat, one of the Roshei Yeshiva in the Mir Yeshiva. Tosfos says in many places in Shas that Talmudic disputes do not result from “sevaros hafuchos” [diametrically opposed lines of reasoning], where one opinion says “black” and another opinion says “white.” True, one point of view can be “mutar” [permitted] and another point of view can be “asur” [forbidden] or one point of view can be “Kosher” and another point of view can be “Treife“, but that is only the practical outcome of the dispute. However, the source of the underlying dispute cannot come from diametrically opposed logical positions. In other words, if one “person” says something makes sense, how can the disputant take the exact opposite point of view?
In effect, Rav Dovid Kviat is asking, what happened to Moshe Rabbeinu here? Moshe considers the mirrors repugnant — he is repelled by them — while the Almighty finds them to be His favorite and most precious donation. How can that be? Moshe usually has a keen understanding of the Will of Hashem. After all, he was Moshe Rabbeinu! How could he be so off base here with his reaction to the mirrors?
Rav Kviat answers that Moshe Rabbeinu was not off base. Moshe’s reaction was logical and totally understandable. However, Moshe Rabbeinu was missing a piece of information that the Holy One Blessed be He possessed. Moshe Rabbeinu, who was in Midyan at the time, had no way of knowing what happened in Egypt regarding the intimate relationships between the Jewish men and their wives. He had no way of knowing that the men were hesitant to have children, and that their wives used these mirrors to encourage their them.
This is a way in which it is possible to have sevaros hafuchos. The Ribono shel Olam knew the purpose that the mirrors served. Had Moshe had this same “inside information” regarding the history of these mirrors, he would also have felt the same way. Moshe saw the mirrors simply as tools to put on eyeliner and mascara. As such, he felt they were a totally inappropriate gift for use in the Beis HaMikdash. The Almighty told him, “Moshe, you do not know the whole story. The whole story is that the women built Klal Yisrael with these mirrors. These are more precious to Me than anything else.”
Chazal say, regarding the words “With all your heart,” [Devorim 4:29] that a person must worship the Almighty “with both his inclinations” (i.e., the Yetzer Ha’tovand the Yetzer Ha’rah). It is obvious how a person serves the Master of the Universe with his “Good Inclination.” How does a person serve Him with his “Evil Inclination?” One explanation is by conquering it. When someone has an urge to do something forbidden, he can subdue that urge, and thereby serve G-d by conquest of his Evil Inclination. However, there is a higher form of serving G-d through one’s Yetzer Ha’Rah. The highest form of serving G-d is to take that Yetzer Ha’Rah and turn it into a Davar Kodesh [Holy Item]. That is what these women did. They leveraged something that is in fact the Yetzer Ha’Rah. Lust for women, lust for sexual relations, can be internal drives that derive from one’s “Evil Inclination.” To take those urges, and to make them into an act of holiness, is the highest form of Divine Service. It gives special pleasure to the Almighty, and the tools used to accomplish this transformation became the most precious donation to HisMishkan.
A similar idea is found with the Tzitz [Headplate] worn by the Kohen Gadol [High Priest]. One of the eight garments of the Kohen Gadol was the Tzitz. The pasuk in this week’s parsha says, “And they made the Headplate, the holy crown, of pure gold, and they inscribed on it with script like that of a signet ring, ‘Holy to Hashem'” [Shemos 39:30]. The words “Kodesh l’Hashem” Were engraved upon the Tzitz, which was worn on the forehead of the Kohen Gadol. This is the only garment that has those words upon it. Why?
Chazal say that the Tzitz sat on the metzach [forehead] of the Kohen Gadol, and the word metzach is symbolic of the term azus metzach, which means chutzpah. On Yom Kippur, as part of the Al Chet confession, we confess for sins we have committed with “azus metzach.” Chutzpah is a terrible trait. The Mishna says “Az panim l’Gehinnom” [a person with chutzpah goes to Hell] [Avos 5:24]. The fact that they wrote “Holy to Hashem” on the metzach, which represents azus [chutzpah], is symbolic of the fact that sometimes the attribute of chutzpah can be transformed and sanctified. It can become Kodesh l’Hashem! The item which represents the bad and evil traits in man, when sanctified and transformed into holiness, represents the highest form of Divine Service.
Sometimes we need to stand up for principles, and take action that requires chutzpah. Such manifestation of chutzpah is called “azus dKedusha.” Of course we need to be careful, but to take chutzpah and use it for fighting Hashem’s battles can reflect a high level of spirituality.
Rav Tzadok comments on the famous Mishna at the end of Sotah. The Mishna writes that in the pre-Messianic era, “chutzpah will multiply.” This is certainly true on a simple level in our own time. The Kotzker Rebbe gives this Mishnaic statement a positive twist, and says that in pre-Messianic times we will need to have chutzpah to spiritually survive. We will be in such a spiritually hostile environment, that unless a person has a certain degree of chutzpah, he will melt away in the corrupt society in which he finds himself. The Mishna says that in the time before the imminent arrival of Moshiach, we will need to take that attribute of azus-chutzpah, and turn it into a tool for our spiritual survival. This is an instance of having the words Kodesh l’Hashem engraved on the metzach.
This concept can allow us to properly interpret a famous statement of Chazal. The pasuk in Parshas Pekudei says that they finished the Mishkan, and Moshe Rabbeinu gave them a blessing: “Moshe saw the entire work, and behold, they had done it as Hashem had commanded — so had they done! — and Moshe blessed them.” [Shemos 39:43] Rashi adds, “He said to them ‘May the Divine Presence dwell in the work of your hands.’”
The simple reading of the pasuk is that now that the work was all done, and the Mishkan [Tabernacle] was built exactly to specification. Moshe gave the people a blessing that the Shechina should now come down to the Mishkan and dwell therein. Why would they need a bracha for this? This is what they had been promised all along. It was part of the deal. The Ribono shel Olam guaranteed, “You build for Me a Mishkan, and My Presence will dwell therein!” [Shemos 25:8] So what is this blessing doing here after they did everything correctly? They had every reason to expect the Shechina now, without any new blessings!
I once saw an interpretation that the expression ‘May the Divine Presence dwell in the work of your hands’ means more than just that the Shechina would come down to the Mishkan. “Yehi Ratzon she’Tishreh Shechina b’ma’aseh yedeichem” means that the effect of the Mishkan — the effect of having the Ribono shel Olam in your midst — should turn all of your mundane acts into vessels for the Shechina.
“The work of your hands” is not referring only to the Mishkan, to the act of construction. Moshe’s blessing was that if you did this right and the Ribono shel Olamis going to dwell in your midst, consequently you will be different people. Your eating is going to be different, your sleeping is going to be different, your business is going to be different. Everything about you is going to be different because you are going to elevate yourselves. This is the ultimate tachlis [purpose] of the Mishkan. “Yehi Ratzon she’Tishreh Shechina b’ma’aseh yedeichem” is the highest possible level of spirituality. “Elu chavivim Alai min ha’kol.
If you can take a mirror, if you can take makeup, if you can beautify yourselves and that becomes a mitzvah — and that becomes “G-d’s most treasured contribution” — that is because this is what Yiddishkeit is all about. “You shall be a holy people to me” [anshei kodesh…]. I want you to be human beings, but holy human beings. You should become different through your work and contributions towards establishing the Mishkan.
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch says that in Sefer Vayikra, which we are about to start next week, the first Korban [sacrifice] mentioned is the burnt offering (Korban Olah). The unique feature of the Olah offering is that it was Kulah l’Hashem — it is entirely burnt as an offering to G-d. At the end of Sefer Vayikra, the last Korban mentioned is ma’aser be’heimah [animal tithe]. This is a form of Peace Offering [Korban Shlomim]. It is almost entirely consumed by those who bring it.
In other words, the Toras Kohanim, the Book of the Law for the Priests (i.e., Vayikra), begins with an offering that goes entirely to G-d, but ultimately — at the end of Vayikra — the Torah demonstrates that it is possible to take something that is a Korban — Kodoshim Kalim — and enjoy it. We are supposed to eat it; we are supposed to take enjoyment from our consumption of this holy offering. It primarily belongs to the owners, and they are supposed to enjoy eating it as a spiritual experience.
That is what the Mishkan is all about, and that is what Toras Kohanim is all about. This is what having a Beis HaMikdash is all about. It is about giving us the capacity to elevate out handiwork, to elevate our lives above the mundane. We are charged with taking the profane and making it holy. We take the mirrors and make a Kiddush Hashem with them. We take Chutzpah, and use it for the Sake of Heaven. We take our possessions and our professions and make with them things which are holy. This is the blessing of “Yehi Ratzon she’Tishreh Shechina b’ma’aseh yedeichem“.

Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD


  1. I still cant get over the Ramban on this that says the women had a Beis Medrash where they learnt all day(using poetic license)

  2. I looked at the Ramban again, and you're right-- they came to be mispaleil and "lishmo'a mitzvos Hashem."

    I heard of an elite frum (dati? chareidi?) girl's high school in Israel that is called Pelech: see here
    in Dave (Balashon)'s comment of 2/24 10 PM as to why they named it that. Maybe they should have named it "Mar'os Hatzov'os."

    The Gemora in Shabbos 87/88 says that the delay of three days before mattan torah was in order that the women shouldn't have a din of poletes/ tuma yotz'ah migufoh. From there is a rayoh that it was kedai to delay mattan torah so that the women could be mekabeil properly, be'eima be'yir'ah be'rese ube'zei'ah, as it says in Brachos 21b. Of course, that might involve learning in order to know what to do, not the mitzvoh of limud hatorah le'sheim limud.