Rabbi Tzvi Teichman
Over three thousand years ago the first historic large gathering of women took place at the entrance of the Ohel Moed, the Tent of Meeting.
When constructing the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, the women desired to make a unique contribution that would memorialize their united effort specifically.
The Torah records that the copper Laver, the Kiyor, was comprised exclusively, במראות הצֹבאֹת — from the mirrors of the legions of women who massed at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. (לז ח
In its most elementary interpretation, the ‘massing of legions’ indicates the women’s dedication to gather together in prayer and allegiance to G-d. (
We are taught that the reference to legions also alludes to the children who were born amidst the dire circumstances of slavery in Egypt, due to efforts of theses inspired women who continued to beautify themselves for their husbands, buoying their failing spirits and prodding them to maintain family life, bearing ‘legions’ of precious Jewish children.
It was the copper mirrors they utilized in adorning themselves, which brought about their remarkable accomplishment, that was donated and used in constructing the Laver.
Might there be some connection between the use of these mirrors to preserve family life and the future of the nation, and their objective to pray in unison at the Tent of Meeting? Or are these merely tangential?
The Holy Arizal would instruct that one must first reiterate the acceptance of the command to ‘love your fellow as yourself’ as a prerequisite to the daily prayers.
Is this simply a device to affect the acceptance of one’s request by incorporating in within the needs of the greater Jewish community, adding to one’s prayers the merit and proper intentions of others worthier and more capable?
Rav Itzele Volozhiner in the preface to Nefesh Hachaim, recalls about his illustrious father, the author, Rav Chaim:
He regularly rebuked me, because he saw that I did not participate in the pain of others. And these were his constant words to me: This is the entire person. One is not created for himself, but to benefit others with the full extent of his powers.
Similarly, the famed Gaon, Rav Shimon Shkop writes in his introduction to Shaarei Yosher:
Blessed shall be the Creator, and exalted shall be the Maker, Who created us in His ‘Image’ and in the likeness of His ‘Structure’, and planted eternal life within us, so that our greatest desire should be to do good to others, to individuals and to the masses, now and in the future, in imitation of the Creator, as it were.
For everything He created and formed was according to His Will, only to be good to the creations. So too, His Will is that we walk in His ways. As it says, “and you shall walk in His ways”, that we, the select of what He made should constantly hold as our purpose to sanctify our physical and spiritual powers for the good of the many, according to our abilities.
Have you ever viewed a photograph of yourself and felt that it doesn’t depict you accurately?
The truth is we perceive what we look like based on viewing ourselves in the mirror each morning as we groom ourselves to meet the day. Throughout the day we often catch a glimpse of ourselves, to straighten our ties, touch up our makeup, wipe off a smudge, or just to observe how we look. But a mirror doesn’t reflect an accurate depiction of how we look and are perceived by others. The mirror reflects our left side making it appear as our right. If you have a pimple on the left side of your face in the mirror image it is on the right of the ‘person’ you are facing. The lens of a camera however presents it correctly, often befuddling us with the unfamiliar contrast.
Evidently G-d created the physical world in a way that a person cannot ever ‘see himself’ precisely. Although a painting or a photograph conveys an image properly, but that is merely pigment or chemicals used to capture a replica of the way light accurately bounces off our faces. It is not the original light, as a mirror reflects — merely a reproduction.
Perhaps in this phenomena G-d was seeking to teach us that we don’t exist for ourselves. Our being and essence is to be captured solely in the eyes of those we are here to benefit. That is the only thing that defines us, making us worthy of the privilege of being a צלם אלקים, an Image of G-d.
When we stand before G-d in prayer, we are not just petitioning him with our request, we are presenting our total being before Him, professing total allegiance to His will, asserting our faith in His total mastery of our fate, asking that He bless us with the properties we need to carry out that will. (
These mighty women taught the world that ‘vanity’ was never their name. They understood that a mirror is merely a tool to utilize in promoting one’s persona as to benefit others. They demonstrated by donating these instruments to be used in the Laver that would be the first stop in the daily of service a Kohen in washing his hands and feet in preparation of his duty, leaving a message for all generations that we are not here for self-gratification, but rather to emulate the Creator, in seeking to assist others for their benefit. Only then can we assert our request before the Almighty that he grant us the wherewithal to fulfill that mission.
The need to assert our commitment to love our fellow man prior to prayer was to give testament to that very notion that our goal in this world is to benefit others, and only with that attitude will we be deserving of G-d’s benevolence.
Several years ago, while visiting Israel I heard a powerful story from the renowned and beloved Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein.
There was a child who took suddenly ill and required a very delicate and lengthy surgery in order to survive. The family enlisted one of the renowned surgeons in Israel, who specialized in this field, to perform the operation and arranged an exact time and place it would it occur. The father of the child was quite anxious as the time for the dangerous surgery approached and there was no sign of the doctor coming. Time slowly ticked away when after six grueling hours of waiting the surgeon finally arrived. In his frustration and pent-up anger, the desperate father blurted out to the late arriving Doctor, “If it were your child would you come six hours late!”
The physician maintained his composure, apologized quietly for his delay, and quickly prepared for the arduous task ahead. After a long and agonizing time, the surgeon appeared, sharing with the family the good news that the surgery was greatly successful.
Sometime later the family discovered what had actually led the surgeon to arrive so late. Apparently, this secular doctor’s son was killed in a terrorist attack that very morning. The doctor attended to the funeral and burial of his beloved son. Yet upon the conclusion of the traumatic interment remembered that he had a duty to fulfill, a benefit to bring to others, despite the pain and anguish he had just endured.
“Who is like Your nation…”, Rav Zilberstein exclaimed upon sharing this story, emphasizing the challenge the doctor must have endured to remain absolutely focused on the delicate surgery, not permitting his personal emotions to interfere.
So often in life we squander the opportunities to benefit others that G-d sends our way, while we distractedly get lost in our own selfish needs, absorbed in our proverbial mirrors trying to paint over the blemishes that stain our faces.
As I was heading out to airport at the end of that trip, my wife and I met in the hotel lobby a lovely couple we had met there during our stay, asking them where they had spent the last Shabbos as I hadn’t noticed them over Shabbos.
They shared that they lodged at a different hotel, closer to the Old City, and then retold a story that had just taken place over Shabbos.
After davening, the hotel serves a grand kiddush/breakfast for their guests. Being a popular hotel, the dining room was packed with nary an empty table. They spotted a family sitting at a long table with two seats available at the other end. Not wanting to encroach but with no other option available, they quietly moved towards the table asking politely if it was okay to sit there. Naturally everybody loves their privacy, and although they consented their body language conveyed some discomfort. The husband of the couple, a charming and gregarious individual broke the ice and initiated the classic game of Jewish geography. Sure enough, the two men had acquaintances in common and the air began to warm. The father of the family then turned to the wife of his newfound ‘friend’ and asked her where she was originally from. She modestly responded that she was fortunate to be the daughter of the indefatigable Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, famed for her pioneering efforts in the world of Kiruv, who brought thousands ‘back home’. Upon mentioning this she notices the man is visibly shaken. She kindly asks him if he is okay, and he responds by telling her that her mother was the very person who made them frum, who was the catalyst for the beautiful family that now graced ‘their’ table.
Rebbetzin Jungreis would have certainly numbered prominently among the ‘legions of women who massed at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting’. She understood no doubt the message of the mirrors. Presenting oneself in dignity and grace is not an exercise in self-promotion, but an ability to utilize those qualities in benefiting others.
One doesn’t have to be a woman to emulate these legions of righteous souls.
May we recognize every opportunity that comes our way, as a gift from G-d to emulate His ways. For after all is said in done, one is not created for himself, but to benefit others with the full extent of his powers!