Making sense of the sedra: Women of Worth
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Making sense of the sedra: Women of Worth

In our thought-provoking new series, rabbis and rebbetzen relate the week’s parsha to the way we live today

In this week’s Parsha, Ki Tisa, we learn that after the Jews left Egypt, God commanded them to build a Mishkan, a portable Temple, which they were to take with them on their journeys through the Sinai desert. Part of the Mishkan layout was the kiyor, a large copper water basin in the forecourt. It was filled with water every morning so that the priests could pour water over their hands and feet before they performed the day’s Temple rituals.

When Moses appealed to the people for donations of precious metal for the construction of the Mishkan, many women brought their copper mirrors to be used as building materials. When Moses saw these, he thought: “How can I accept them? Women use them to beautify themselves and to be attractive to men.”

God rebuked Moses for seeking to reject these gifts. The Jewish women used them not for immorality but to be attractive to their own husbands. The men were so exhausted and demoralised by the slavery in Egypt that they no longer had any regard for their wives. The future of the next generation of the Jewish people hung in the balance.

The midrash [interpretation] teaches that the Jewish women used their mirrors to reawaken their husbands’ attention. They sat with their husbands and looked at their reflections, saying: “I look nicer than you!” This breathed new life into their relationships, and babies were born
as a result.

God commanded Moses: “The mirrors were used for beauty and spirituality and will have an honoured place in my holy dwelling place.”

It is a tragic reflection on our society that women are still so at risk that our Parliament is currently debating whether misogyny ought to be classed as a hate crime.

Feminine beauty, which the Torah presents as a key to holiness is, for some, a cue for immorality and assault.

Women are the people who are naturally the closest to God’s own standard of perfection, and a man who harms or insults a woman tramples underfoot the natural perfection that God has granted to him as
a guide.

But we Jews still nurture the spirituality of the kiyor in our daily routine. Every morning, we wash our hands in the same way as the priests did on entering the Temple.

A memory of the kiyor’s respect for proper feminine beauty starts off every Jewish day, and we are reminded each day of the holiness of every woman.

 

by Rebbetzin Rachie Lister Edgware United Synagogue

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