This week’s parsha, in continuing the theme of previous parshiot, recounts the steps and actions toward the building of the Mishkan. Among the vessels described is the Kiyor – the washing basin from which the Kohanim would purify their hands and feet before starting their service in the Beit Hamikdash.
In previous instances, when mentioning the Kiyor, the Torah does not tell us of the source of the material with which it was made, until now. The Torah says: “He [Betzalel] made the Kiyor of copper and its pedestal of copper, with the mirrors of the woman who congregated at the entrance of the tent of meeting” (Shemot 38:8). Rashi, sourcing himself in the Midrash Tanchuma, explains the significance of this information: “The daughters of Israel had in their possession copper mirrors which they would look into when they would beautify themselves…When their husbands would be exhausted by the racking labor they would go and bring them food and drink…they would entice their husbands to desire and would conceive with them and give birth there.”
Rashi continues that Moshe initially rejected the offering from the women because they were made for the “evil inclination,” but G-d demands that the offering be accepted for “these are dearest to Me of all, for through them, the woman established many legions of offspring in Egypt.”
Like we have seen many times before, there is always something very deep behind the back-and-forths between Moshe Rabbeinu and G-d; there is a lesson to be gleaned and a philosophy to be expressed. So too here, it is worthwhile to delve a bit into the dynamics at play.
What was Moshe’s initial thought process that caused him to reject the offering of mirrors from the women? And what about G-d’s response explains why He not only commanded for them to be accepted, but even says that they are the most precious to Him?
When one takes a closer look at the original source of Rashi, the Midrash Tanchuma (Pikudei:9), we are struck with the intensity with which Moshe refused to accept the mirrors. The Midrash uses the word (זעף (ס״א נזף, which can be translated as “rage.” Seemingly, Moshe’s refusal to accept the mirrors was not out of personal preference. Rather, Moshe’s reaction suggests his rejection was based on the perception of an inherent incongruence between the mirrors and the Mishkan. What is the problem with including the mirrors in the Mishkan? What could cause such a visceral response?
I would like to propose that when the woman brought the mirrors, Moshe’s reaction was directed towards the idea of taking objects that are used to facilitate human procreation and “mixing” them with the most holy of structures that man has created, with the holiest of purposes: to house G-d Himself in this finite world. If we were to think about this deeply, we would understand that in a sense, the act of procreation is the most basic testament to man’s limited nature. The clearest delineation between man and G-d is G-d’s נצחיות – immortality. For if man were a God, he would not need self-preservation to ensure the future of his name. The need to procreate is a byproduct of man’s mortality. Moshe found the coupling of these things (i.e. the concepts of the Mishkan and the mirrors) to be incongruent. He rejected the inclusion of the mirrors because he saw them as a symbol of the finitudes of man.
Hakadosh Baruch Hu response to Moshe is: Accept them, for these are more precious to Me than all the other vessels, for through them the woman established offspring for the nation in Egypt.
As previously stated, the women used the mirrors to entice their husbands to have relations. Despite the burden of slavery and the atrocities foisted upon the nation, the woman did this because they did not lose hope in the future redemption that G-d had promised them. The women’s faith, shown through the mirrors, were not representative of man’s limitations, but rather were symbols of the deeply felt faith in G-d’s providence, even in the darkest of times. The mirrors were transformed into a mark of humanity rising up into a bond with the Divine. When man connects to G-d, he surpasses his limitations and connects to the Infinite. This is perfectly congruent with the concept of the Mishkan and so came G-d’s demand to accept the offering.
Perhaps this is why of all things, the mirrors were converted into the washing basin for the Kohanim. The Kiyor was used to purify the Kohanim, who would serve as the emissaries between the people and G-d in a personal connection of devotion, thus coupling Man and G-d in a special union. The Kiyor would forever serve as a symbol and reminder of G-d’s desire to connect with man in this world, and of the nation’s undying faith in His promises.