Parashat Vayakhel

Sacred Relationships

The mirrors used to create the basin in the Tabernacle teach us that sanctified sexuality means seeing ourselves in relation to others.

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Provided by the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel, a summer seminar in Israel that aims to create a multi-denominational cadre of young Jewish leaders.

One of the vessels described in Parashat Vayakhel is the 'Kiyor,' the sink, or basin, to be used by the priests to wash their hands and feet in the course of their work in the Tabernacle. The Bible presents us with a somewhat cryptic description of its construction: "And he made the sink of bronze, and its pedestal of bronze, with the mirrors of the women who congregate, who congregated at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting."

Who are these women? Where and why are they congregating? Why were their mirrors used to construct the basin?

Rashi brings the following fascinating answer from the Midrash: "The women of Israel were in possession of mirrors, which they used when they beautified themselves, and even these they did not withhold from donating to the Tabernacle. And Moses rejected them, for they are made to serve the evil inclination.

“God said to him: 'Accept them, for these are dearer to me than all the rest, for it is with them that the women raised many congregations [this is the meaning of 'the women who congregate' in the verse] in Egypt.

“‘When their husbands were tired from their labors, the women would go and bring them food and drink and feed them, and bring the mirrors with them, and each one would look at herself and her husband in the mirror and tempt him, and say 'I am prettier than you', and thereby arouse their husbands' desire for them, and they would be together, and the women conceived, and gave birth ...'

“And the sink was made of them, for its function is to make peace between husband and wife, by giving water from it to the woman suspected by her jealous husband of having been unfaithful [during a ritual known as the 'Sotah' ceremony]."

Arguing With God

Moses' argument with God is interesting. Moses objects to using the mirrors in the Tabernacle because he sees them as serving the evil inclination; women use them in order to put on their make up, to make themselves beautiful. God does not contradict Moses; that is, basically, what the mirrors were for. However, he points out that the evil inclination is also the mechanism that creates, ultimately, human beings, and specifically, against all odds, a Jewish people.

The husbands, enslaved in Egypt, were crushed, beaten, and therefore unable and unwilling to reach out to another human being, and certainly unable to imagine a future for people as yet unborn. The wives, using the engine of the evil inclination, manage to do both--reach out to and interact with their husbands, and, thereby, create a future for the seemingly defeated Jewish people.

To better understand the difference of opinion between Moses and God, I think we should look at the specifics of what Moses saw in these mirrors, and what God saw in them.

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Rabbi Shimon Felix

Rabbi Shimon Felix is the Israel Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. He lives with his family in Jerusalem, and has taught in a wide variety of educational frameworks in Israel and abroad.