Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Polished Mirrors

By HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

"'The copper that was donated (hatenufah)' [Shemot 38:29] – This refers to the copper of the brides, as in Greek a bride is called 'ninfi .'" [Midrash Tanchuma Pekudai 10].

It is written, "And he made the basin of copper and its base of copper, from the polished mirrors of the women who had gathered at the Tent of Meeting" [Shemot 38:29]. The sages taught us that at first Moshe did not want to take the mirrors, because they had been part of a process which led to sexual acts. But the Holy One, Blessed be He, told Moshe to accept them, because the women had made use of them to establish "large hordes" of offspring in Egypt. When their husbands arrived home weary from their labors, the women would take the mirrors, and each one would look at herself and her husband in the mirror and entice him with words. This led the husbands to desire them, and they became pregnant and gave birth. And that is the meaning of "the mirrors of those who gathered together." The basin was made from these mirrors, since they helped to bring each man and his wife together.

The term "tzov'ot" appears only one other time in the Bible: "And Eli was very old, and he heard about all that his sons had done to all of Yisrael, and that they would lie down with the women who gathered together at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting." [Shmuel I 2:22]. It is written in the Talmud, "Whoever says that the sons of Eli sinned is making a mistake. Rather, because they delayed bringing the sacrifices of the women who were thus prevented from going to their husbands, the passage writes about them as if they had lain down with the women." [Shabbat 55b]. By delaying the sacrifices brought by the women after they gave birth, Eli's sons caused a delay in the observance of the mitzva of having children.

Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook explains in "Ein Ayah" that Eli's sons did not understand that family life is not a contradiction to a holy life. They felt that holiness should be linked to asceticism, and that therefore there was no problem for them to delay the women's return to their husbands in order to resume normal family life. However, the blessing under the chuppah is to G-d who "sanctifies His nation Yisrael by marriage and a chuppah" - showing that the way to holiness is through a proper married life. And that is why the Holy One, Blessed be he, praised the women for contributing their mirrors, and commanded Moshe to make the basin from them, since its water is used to sanctify the Kohanim and prepare them for the holy service. "The foundation of the worship of G-d and the sanctity of life are closely related."

The curtains which covered the Tabernacle were made from cloth 4 Amot wide which were sewn together, creating two large curtains made up of five or six sections. The two curtains were attached with loops. Why didn't they sew all eleven sections together, or why didn't they leave them all as separate components? The answer is that the place where the two curtains were joined together was exactly above the curtain which separated between the Sanctuary and the Holy of Holies. This shows us that the two areas were not separated but also not joined together. The same is true for the difference between what is merely holy and the Holy of Holies. It is also relevant for the difference between the holy and the secular. Holy and secular are not the same thing, but neither are they completely separate. Rather, they are linked by various intermediate stages.

I heard from the late Rabbi Tzvi Hodah that one time when he was on a boat he asked the poet Chernichovsky to read a new poem that he had written. The poet was surprised to hear that a rabbi was interested in secular poetry. The rabbi replied that in Judaism there is no conflict between the holy and the secular but only intermediate stages. The only conflict is between the holy and the spiritually impure, and the rabbi took the opportunity to chastise the poet about the impurities in his work.

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