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The Mishkan of the Heart

Parashat Vayakhel – 5782

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites


Parashat Vayakhel describes the creation of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle, the temporary temple that accompanied the Jewish nation on its desert journey) and the utensils within it. The last utensil described is the copper washstand situated in the Mishkan’s courtyard.  This was the sink in which Aaron and his sons, the kohanim (priests), as well the kohanim who followed them, washed their hands and feet and purified themselves as preparation for their avodat Hashem, service of G-d, in the Mishkan.

Interestingly, the Torah mentions not only the material from which the washstand was made – copper – but also the source of the material.

And he made the washstand of copper and its base of copper from the mirrors of the women who had set up the legions, who congregated at the entrance of the tent of meeting.

(Exodus 38, 8)

Based on this description, the washstand was made of copper as shiny as the mirrors used by the women to beautify themselves for their husbands.

Rashi, according to midrash (Tanchuma, Pekudei 9), explains that the contribution of the women led to an argument between Moses and G-d.  Moses initially refused to accept the donation.  He felt it was inappropriate to use mirrors meant for such an earthly need as feminine self-adornment as material for creation of a Mishkan utensil.

But G-d answered with an incredible response:

The Holy One, blessed is He, said to him, “Accept [them], for these are more precious to Me than anything because through them the women set up many legions [i.e., through the children they gave birth to] in Egypt.” When their husbands were weary from back-breaking labor, they [the women] would go and bring them food and drink and give them to eat. Then they [the women] would take the mirrors and each one would see herself with her husband in the mirror, and she would seduce him with words, saying, “I am more beautiful than you.” And in this way, they aroused their husbands desire and would copulate with them, conceiving and giving birth there, as it is said: “Under the apple tree I aroused you” (Song 8:5)

The women wisely awakened the love of their partners and thus built the Jewish nation.

But how did they do so with the use of a mirror?

Rabbi Shnuer Zalman of Liadi (founder and first Rebbe of Chabad, 1745 – 1812) reveals a wonderful secret in his book, the Tanya:

There is yet another good way for a man, which is suitable for all and “very nigh” indeed, to arouse and kindle the light of the love that is implanted and concealed in his heart, that it may shine forth with its intense light, like a burning fire, in the consciousness of the heart and mind…This [way] is: to take to heart the meaning of the verse: “As in water, face answers to face, so does the heart of man to man.” This means that as [in the case of] the likeness and features of the face which a man presents to the water, the same identical face is reflected back to him from the water, so indeed is also the heart of a man who is loyal in his affection for another person, for this love awakens a loving response for him in the heart of his friend also, cementing their mutual love and loyalty for each other, especially as each sees his friend’s love for him.

(Likutei Amaraim, 46)

The Jewish women saw their partners collapsing from the burden of hard labor in Egypt.  They would come home and fall into bed exhausted. In their wisdom, the women understood that the way to rekindle love was by looking into a mirror together.  When the husband looked into the mirror and saw his wife’s loving glance, his old love was rekindled.

The waters of the washstand served the same purpose.  A man looking into the water would see his own image. “As in water, face answers to face.” That same shared look of the husband and wife at their image reflected back at them rekindles their love and creates peace between them.

Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (Poland, 1765 – 1827) raises another question: Why does it say “As in water, face answers to face so does the heart of man to man” and not “as in a mirror”?

And he explains – In order to see one’s face in water, you must bend down, while to look in a mirror, one stands upright.

In order to arouse love, it is not enough to have a loving look that comes from a position of firmness or arrogance.  Only when a person looks at another with humility, concession and acceptance, then, “as water, face answers to face,” love is rekindled also by the other side.