They made the bronze basin and its bronze stand from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting. — Exodus 38:8
The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Vayakhel-Pekudei, from Exodus 35:1–40:38. Vayakhel means “assembled,” and Pekudei means “counting.” The Haftorah is from 1 Kings 7:51–8:21.
Jewish tradition gives us a fascinating insight into the construction of the washbasin used in holy service in the Tabernacle by the priests who would wash their hands and feet before serving God. As God had commanded, the washbasin was made out of copper. But where in the world would the children of Israel get copper in the middle of the desert? The answer: “from the mirrors of the women.”
In those days, copper was melted down and smoothed over in order to create a reflective object like a mirror. Tradition teaches that at first, when the women offered their mirrors as contributions toward the holy Tabernacle, Moses didn’t want them. He felt that the mirrors, used by women to look at themselves and beautify themselves, were far too attached to the material world to be used for such spiritual pursuits. But God felt otherwise. Tradition says that God told Moses: “Those mirrors are more precious to Me than anything else.”
How could that be? Why were those mirrors so beloved by God? The Jewish sages explain that these mirrors were used by the women while enslaved in Egypt in order to beautify themselves and seduce their husbands. At the time, the Israelite men felt so hopeless and were all but completely out of faith that they refused to bring more children into the world. They didn’t want to raise families in such a harsh reality that, by their reckonings, was going to continue indefinitely.
But the women knew better. They had faith in God that life would get better and that one day their children would be free. So they used their mirrors as a tool to continue the line of Israel. Because of them, 600,000 Israelites walked out of Egypt!
This is why those mirrors were so precious to God. They were a symbol of faith and trust during hard times. What could be more holy?
This interesting insight also teaches us a valuable life lesson: Nothing in this world is inherently good or bad. Mirrors aren’t good or bad. The Internet isn’t good or bad. Even guns aren’t good or bad. We give meaning to the objects in God’s world by how we use them. Anything can be used for good, or God forbid, for evil.
Judaism teaches that’s partly the reason why we are here in the first place — to elevate everything in God’s world. Everything has the potential to be used in holy service of God. It’s all in how we see it, and consequently, how we use it.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President