Mirror, mirror

Mirror, mirror

Vayachel/Pekudei - Exodus 35:1-40:38

This week’s double parsha contains an almost verbatim repetition of the content of the readings of the past three weeks. First we read the instructions for making the Mishkan and this week we read how those instructions were carried out. And because there is so much repetition, the differences between this week’s reading and what came before really stand out. Particularly noticeable are the explicit references to the contributions of women to the making of the Mishkan.

In Terumah we read, “You shall accept gifts for Me from every person (kol ish, literally ‘every man’) whose heart so moves him.” This week, we learn that the Israelites did exactly as they were asked: “And everyone (kol ish) who excelled in ability and everyone whose spirit moved him came, bringing to the Lord his offering for the work of the Tent of Meeting and for all its service and for the sacral vestments. Men and women, all whose hearts moved them, all who would make an elevation offering of gold to the Lord came….” Moreover, the Torah tells us, “And all the skilled women spun with their own hands and brought what they had spun, in blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and in fine linen. And all the women who excelled in that skill spun the goats’ hair.”

Men and women both contributed their possessions and skills to this holy work. A little later (38:8), we find this curious verse: “He made the laver of copper and its stand of copper from the mirrors of the women who performed tasks at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.”

Nowhere else does the Torah describe what objects were refashioned into the Mishkan’s furnishings or who brought them, but here we learn that women gave their mirrors (made of polished metal, not glass), which were made into the basin where the kohanim washed before they entered the Mishkan.

When the women gave their mirrors, they had no way to replace them. From that point on, if they wanted to put on makeup, do their hair, or check their appearance, they had to help each other. No longer able to look at themselves, the women had to look at each other, to support each other.

There is a hasidic story about a miser who visited a great rebbe seeking a blessing. The rebbe said, “Reb Yankel, first you must learn a simple lesson. Come to the window and tell me what you see.” Reb Yankel replied, “I see people, men, women, and children, some well-dressed, some in rags.”

The rebbe continued, “That’s fine, now come to the mirror and tell me what you see.” Reb Yankel replied, “Now I see only myself.”

“This is the lesson I wish you to learn,” said the rebbe. “The difference between the window pane through which you see other people and the mirror wherein you see yourself is a thin coating of silver. People who never part with their silver have not learned to look out into the world and discover the needs of others. They look only in mirrors and see only themselves. Learn to part with your silver, and you will receive a blessing.”

Mirrors are all around us, and there’s nothing wrong with using them to look our best. But when we look only in the mirror, we are much less than our best.

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