Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mirror Mirror on the... Kiyor

Blossoming Almond Flowers in Bat Ayin
We would like to welcome Rabbi Avraham Iskowitz to share some insights on this week’s parsha. He is a long standing teacher of Jewish Thought at Midreshet Bat Ayin. In addition to teaching, he is a Torah Scribe/Sofer and is currently working on the restoration of a very old European Sefer Torah.

Mirror Mirror on the... Kiyor
Parshat Vayakhel
By Avraham Iskowitz

Click here for a printable version

In this week’s Parasha we read about the nation's enthusiasm and participation in the building of the Mishkan; a physical place whence the spiritual becomes tangible. Every one had what to give in providing the raw materials that would become woven, crafted and molded as the people watched Hashem's Will materialize into the vessels He prescribed to represent and manifest His presence amongst us. Towards the end of the Parasha, we find a vessel that stands out from amongst the rest. A vessel that was made not of smolten metals, but of other, pre-existing vessels. Namely, the Copper Laver (Washbasin, sink, kiyor..) from which the Cohanim would wash their hands and feet in preparation for their daily service.

A few words about the Cohanim before we explore this interesting vessel...

Am Yisrael, as a whole, is the vessel through which Hashem makes Himself known in His world. In particular, this vessel is subdivided into: Mind, Heart and body. In our lives, these are experienced as thoughts, feelings and behaviors. These three elements are represented by the Cohanim, Leviim and Yisraelim as they serve to purify these aspects of human existence to the degree that will enable the Love and Illumination of Hashem to flow into the world unhindered.

Although the service of the Cohanim in the Mishkan is usually associated with the various actions they performed, in actuality, the most important element of their service was purity of thought, focus and intent. Their thought could actually interfere with, and even nullify the affects of the offerings they handled. If, for example, a person were to bring an offering to atone for unintentionally eating on Yom Kippur, and while tending to it the Cohen 'thought' it was atoning for unintentionally working on Yom Kippur, the owners would have to bring another offering and start over.

Now, what does all of this have to do with the Kiyor?

As was mentioned above, the Kiyor was utilized by the Kohanim as a preparation before they approached their service. Being that their service hinged upon their ability to direct their thoughts, there must be some element of the Kiyor that enhanced this skill...Which brings us back to the materials used to construct the Kiyor.

In chapter 38, verse 8, we read that the Kiyor was made out of the shiny, copper mirrors of the 'legions' of the women of Israel. Unaltered and non-smelted, they were all combined to create a giant basin of water.

Many reasons are mentioned by the midrashim and commentators as to why they were chosen for the construction of the Kiyor, but the most practical one was so that the Kohanim can check and make sure their clothing was without stain or dirt as they prepared for service.

But there is a deeper significance to looking at themselves before engaging as the messengers of the peoples' thoughts and yearnings to draw close to Hashem...

When someone brought a 'sin' offering to the mishkan, they would have to confess, in the presence of the Cohen, the nature of the sin they sought atonement for. It was then the Cohen's task to transform the act which distanced the sinner from his Creator into one that enabled his drawing close, in purity, to the sensitivity to and awareness of Hashem's presence in his life. This was accomplished through the thoughts of the Cohen and his ability to fend off distractions.

When we see or hear about someone 'sinning', we naturally feel pity, disdain or even disgust. To feel compassion, be moved to help, and to identify with the sinner do not come so easily. But these are the exact requirements underlying the job of the Cohen.

It is told of Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov, that he once asked his shamash if he knew why people constantly came to HIM to ask HIM to pray for their health, barrenness, financial woes and other sorrows which plagued the community. He then went on to explain that it was because HE was the cause of their suffering. It was all HIS fault...

Being that he was the leader of his generation, the HEAD, then all that manifested around him emanated from him, just as all that manifests in one’s body is governed by and 'caused' by the mind. When someone approached a Cohen in the Mishkan with a sin offering, the Cohen had to realize that he was seeing his own reflection. The materialization of his own thoughtlessness. For, after all, sin offerings were usually brought for UNintentional sins. The thoughtless acts we fall prey to when we don't identify with, nor be in tune with, our surroundings. The correction for these acts is accomplished only if the Cohen acts with purpose and intent to uproot the cause of all negligence and insensitivity from the minds of Am Yisrael.

To remind the Cohanim of this, they purify their hands and feet while seeing how they reflect upon the world and how the world reflects them.

It is interesting to note that this teaching came from the women of the nation whom, we learn from Chava, have a natural ability to reflect most accurately the spiritual state of the men in their lives. And it is in the merit of these same women that we were redeemed from the grips of the Egyptians who represent the opposite of spiritual refinement. For redemption comes when we stop allowing for ourselves to be distracted from our task of self-refinement, which leads to our judging each other, and, instead, prepare ourselves to receive Hashem's Presence amongst us.

We are called A Kingdom of Cohanim, implying that our thoughts affect on a very personal level the lives of others. We don't exist as unrelated individuals cut off from those around us, but all we think, say, feel or do has an immediate consequence upon all of mankind. This is one reason why the Parasha begins with a word that calls for ALL the individuals to come together to realize they are all interwoven.

May we finally realize that we are all reflections of each other and be moved to embrace one another despite, and even BECAUSE of our shortcomings. We are here to strengthen and be strengthened by each other.

With hope and prayers for the complete redemption, have a wonderful Shabbath.

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