Thursday, February 28, 2013
Ki Tissa- Holy Mirrors Batman
In the Mikdash, in the wilderness, and in the ancient Temple, beautiful large copper lavers were placed, at which Aaron, his sons, and generations of kohanim could wash their hands and feet before ministering in the presence of God. This command to do so is given as a chok, a statute, for all times. A chok is a law without specific explanation, although that has never stopped our ancestors or us from searching for reasons or expanding these practices. It has likely led to our rabbinic practice of washing before eating, not only before eating bread, but before other food, as we do before eating the karpas at the seder. Certainly our method of pouring water from a cup duplicates the practice of the kohanim.
Along with our search for the why, we search for the how. The Israelites, a people recently freed from slavery, carried with them rich fabrics, gold, silver, copper, fine yarns, and gems. All of these are given specific uses. Scholars throughout history have speculated from where these materials were taken. The yarns and fabrics may have been spun and woven by the Israelites. The gold and silver are taken from their Egyptian neighbours during the final days in Egypt. But how did they have sufficient copper to make the large lavers? Midrash Tanchuma provides us with an answer. In ancient times mirrors were not made of glass. They were fashioned from highly polished metals; copper being especially popular and valuable. Shemot 38:8 (parashat Vayakhel) explains where the copper originated, “from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance of the Ohel Moed.” Other donations are not explained. Why this one? The Midrash teaches that one of the means by which Pharaoh “oppressed” the Israelite was a forced separation between husband and wife. The men were forced to remain in the fields. This would have two benefits to Pharaoh. First, his labourers would not need to waste time or energy returning to their homes from the fields. Second, the separation would forestall procreation.
The women understood that such a separation would erode the fabric of family relationships so important to our people. They would go to the Nile with buckets to collect water. Into these buckets, God would cause small fish to swim. The women used the collected water to bathe and cook most of the fish. The others they sold and bought wine. After preparing before the aforementioned mirrors, the women would take their savory meals of fish and wine out to the fields, where they could reinvigorate their husbands with a fine meal, and seduce them, ensuring the continuation of the Israelite people. When the women brought their mirrors to Moshe for the Mikdash, he rejected them, calling them instruments of vanity. God, however, instructed Moshe to take the mirrors saying, “Accept them because these are dearest to me of all, for by their means the women established many generations of offspring.” Since the mirrors have been used for such a holy purpose, God instructs Moshe to accept the mirrors, and use them for the laver, a vessel of purification.
Rav Sean and I have a haggada that illustrates this Midrash. The art is of women seducing their husbands. It is a medieval haggada. Its art serves as a reminder to all of the significant role of women in the exodus. It also teaches us to look beyond the surface for deeper meanings and motives.