Question: Where are all 39 creative activities forbidden on Shabbos alluded to in this weeks parsha?
Answer: The tenth word “Eileh” has a numerical value of 36, and when one is added for each letter in the word, the total is 39 (Shabbos 70a).
In this weeks parsha, towards the end (Shemos 38:8), the Torah recounts how when the people brought mirrors to be used to make the kiyor, the basin to be used to hold the water for washing the hands and the feet of the kohanim prior to their serving in the Mishkan, Moshe wanted to reject them. Why? Because it was with these mirrors that the Jewish women in Mitzrayim beautified themselves for their enslaved and broken husbands. With the help of these mirrors, the wives were able to reinvigorate their husbands, and to counteract Paroah’s plan to decimate the Jewish people.
However, in spite of the fact that everything the women did for their husbands was for holy a reason, Moshe still could not bring himself to accept these particular gifts. Items used to incite the yetzer hara, Moshe reasoned, could not make an acceptable contribution to the creation of a holy dwelling place for G-d.
However, in spite of the logic in Moshe’s decision, G-d vetoed him. “Accept them!” G-d told Moshe, “For they are more dear to Me than anything else!” (see Rashi). Could Moshe argue with G-d on this one?
The question is, why didn’t Moshe see this for himself? Even though his logic was impeccable, still, Moshe should have been able to figure out what G-d wanted. How do we know this? Because in last week’s parsha Moshe went out on a limb and broke the Luchos (Tablets), without first checking with G-d, and against the vehement protests of Aharon and the Elders. Yet, in the end, G-d congratulated Moshe for his independent action.
Now, who would ever think of deliberately throwing G-d’s handiwork to the ground, even to make a point? Could we throw a Sefer Torah to the ground, purposely, to bring order to an unruly crowd? G-d forbid! Yet, Moshe did even more than this, for a Sefer Torah, for all its intrinsic holiness, is man-made ink on man-made parchment, unlike the Luchos which were engraved by G-d on stone carved out by G-d! Yet, did Moshe hesitate even for a moment?
On the other hand, is it so outrageous an idea to use materials that previously had been used for a mitzvah, albeit with the involvement of the yetzer hara, in the construction of the Mishkan? It would seem not. Why then did Moshe flatly reject the mirrors for the construction of the Kiyor?
The answer is, there was a difference. The Luchos, because they came directly from G-d, represented holiness coming down into the world from Above. Moshe had scaled the heights and entered into Heaven to receive them, and, by way of miracle, was able to bring them down to mortal man. They were intrinsically holy, and the only issue was one of preserving their sanctity.
The mirrors, however, were the handiwork of man, designed by man, built by man, to satisfy a purpose of man; how could they be considered so holy as to be used within the Mishkan? Did they have intrinsic holiness? At least the other contributions, even if they too lacked intrinsic holiness, had not been used to awaken the yetzer hara, the principle element in every sin!
Moshe’s complaint was valid, except for one very important point. What was the intention of the Jewish wives in Egypt, and how was it accomplished through the mirrors?
Years ago, I read in a Toronto newspaper about a study completed on young couples who chose not to have any children (there were many). When asked why they had made such a monumental decision, many answered, “Why should we have children today? Who would want to bring children into this world? The future is bleak for mankind … For this we need to raise children?”
The truth is, if any future seemed bleak, it had to have been the future of the Jewish people in Egypt. After generations in cruel slavery, and with no sign of change, could anyone have faulted a Jewish women in Egypt for asking, “Why have children?”
Yet, not only did they not ask this question, but they ignored it all together. Instead, they went ahead and greatly multiplied the ranks of the Jewish nation, at the height of the Egyptian onslaught to obliterate every last vestige of Jewish soul. The situation was hopeless, absolutely hopeless. The Jewish men came home, each day, completely broken … with no faith in the future.
What did the women do? They reignited their husband’s faith in the future. Through their willingness to continue to populate the Jewish people, they, in effect, told their husbands, “This slavery will not go on forever … It will end, and the Egyptians will be destroyed. We will be saved, and outlive them all! A redeemer will come yet, you’ll see!”
It was with this newly found hope that their husbands were willing to continue bringing children into the world. And, lest one doubt the deep sense of mission of the women, Rashi says:
Thus they awakened their husbands’ affection and subsequently became the mothers of many children, as it says, “I awakened your love under the apple tree” (Shir HaShirim 8:5)
The Pri Tzaddik writes that “apple tree” is a euphemism for G-d, and that the Jewish people are considered “apples” growing on that Tree. Thus, the above cited verse serves to show how the loyalty the Jewish wives showed their husbands was in fact a loyalty to G-d, and His master plan for creation.
A central role of the Mishkan is to reveal G-d’s master plan for creation. It was a microcosm of all of creation, a miniature physical expression of G-d’s reason for all that exists and all that transpires. Every detail that went into its construction indicated this and was only possible with some kind of mystical understanding of existence itself.
This is why G-d valued the mirrors more than anything else contributed for the building of the Mishkan and its elements, for they were a symbol of all the Mishkan was there to teach, to awaken, to inspire. The Mishkan was more than a portable “house” for the Divine Presence; it was an allusion to the purpose of creation, and all that is yet to come, later symbolized in our time by the arrival of the third and final Temple, may it come quickly in our days.
However, was Moshe not aware of all of this? Yes. Why then did he not want to accept the mirrors until after G-d told him to? The answer to this question as more to do with the nature of belief itself.
Belief is a matter of the heart, a mystery revealed only to G-d. A we say on Yom Kippur, “Only You, G-d, know the secrets of the heart.” Even had Moshe suspected that the intentions of the Jewish women had been holy, how could he prove this to the nation, who might focus on the fact the yetzer hara also has a “place” in the Mishkan. This could lead to a lot of irrational rationalizations in the name of serving G-d, as it already has throughout the ages.
However, once G-d stepped in, so-to-speak, and told Moshe to accept the mirrors, that was proof positive that the mirrors were holy, not because they had been used to incite the yetzer hara, but because they had harnessed the yetzer hara to give expression to a fundamental belief in G-d’s promise to redeem the Jewish people, and to lead them to a far greater and nobler destiny.
This week begins the four special Maftir readings in advance of Purim and Pesach. The first one is called Parashas Shekalim, since it discusses the giving of the half-shekel piece during pre-Temple (and Temple) times, which was used to purchase sacrifices on behalf of the nation.
The second parsha is Parashas Zachor, which we read to fulfill what many cite as Torah mitzvah to “remember what Amalek did to us when we left Egypt” (Devarim 25:17). For this reason, we pay extra attention to this reading in Shul on the Shabbos prior to Purim (Haman is considered to have descended from Amalek, which is why, according to the Ebin Ezra, Mordechai would not allow the Jews to benefit from the spoils of war). Have intention while listening to be fulfilling your own personal obligation to say the blessings before and after the reading, and to read the parsha.
The third parsha is called Parashas Parah, which discusses the mitzvah of spiritual purification with the ashes of the Red Heifer, something the Jewish people had to undergo in Egypt in advance of the sacrificing and eating of their Pesach Offering.
The last parsha is called Parashas HaChodesh, which discusses the sanctification of the New Moon (in advance of Rosh Chodesh Nissan), and the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people prior to their redemption from Egypt.
The rabbis explain that one of the main reasons why each Jew gave only a half-shekel to the Temple, whether rich or poor, was to make the point that each Jew is special and the same before G-d. According to the Mei HaShiloach (Volume Two, Parashas Massei), every Jew, regardless of his station in life, is equal before G-d. People begin life with different givens; some are talented, some are born extra-healthy, while others seem to be geniuses and good-natured from birth!
But, as the rabbis teach in Pirke Avos, “According to the effort is the reward” (5:22). In other words, it’s what you do with your “givens” that makes you you, and unique. Don’t be fooled by externalities, position, possessions, and the like. It is the hidden righteous people that hold the world up, says the Talmud, people who endeavor with super human might to make the very best of what they have been given by G-d.
Have a great Shabbos! And there’s no greater time than Shabbos to take stock of the gifts we have been given, and how to best use them … in the service of G-d!
Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details! www.thirtysix.org