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Torah Sparks

March 21, 2009 – 25 Adar 5769

Annual: Ex. 35:1 – 40:38 (Etz Hayim, p. 552; Hertz p. 373)
Triennial Cycle: Ex. 37:17 – 39:21 (Etz Hayim p.560; Hertz p. 379)
Maftir: Ex. 12:1-20 (Etz Hayim, p. 380; Hertz p. 253)
Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16 – 46:18 (Etz Hayim, p. 1291; Hertz p. 1001)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

Moses assembles the entire Israelite community and instructs them once again to observe Shabbat. He then asks them to bring their gifts, materials for building the mishkan, and for those who have the needed skills to come forward to perform the work. When the artisans come together under the leadership of Bezalel and Oholiav, they report to Moses that the people are bringing more materials than necessary. Moses issues a proclamation that no one should bring any more gifts for the mishkan.

The Torah then describes the process of making of the cloth walls, roof, planks, and bars of the mishkan, the curtain for the Holy of Holies, and the screen for the entrance. Bezalel makes the ark and its cover, the table, the menorah, the altars for incense and for burnt offerings, the anointing oil, and the incense.

Moses instructs Aaron’s son Itamar to conduct an accounting of the materials used for the building of the mishkan. The making of the priestly vestments is described. Once all of the work has been completed, the mishkan and its furnishing are brought to Moses and he blesses the people who made them. God instructs Moses to set up the mishkan, to anoint it and its contents, and to consecrate Aaron and his sons. The cloud representing God’s presence fills the mishkan, lifting up from there when it is time for the Israelites to set out on their journeys.

1. Mirror, Mirror

He made the laver of copper and its stand of copper, from the mirrors of the women who performed tasks at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. (Exodus 38:8)

  1. Why were the mirrors of the women chosen particularly for the copper laver? To serve as added inspiration to the priests who were to use the laver for cleansing their hands and feet before beginning the Temple service. The ritual washing of hands and feet was to remind the priests that they must never tire in their ministrations but must bring ever-new strength and vigor to bear upon their work... Now the priests could hardly have had a better incentive than the knowledge that all classes of their people were supporting their work and that their activities served to strengthen faith even in circles that had seemed least likely to benefit from their endeavors. The fact that there were among the Children of Israel pious women who were willing to give away their ornaments and even their precious mirrors for the Sanctuary of God provided the priests with special incentive to carry on. These mirrors joined together to form a laver that was truly fit to dispense to the priests the fresh and clear water symbolizing renewed vigor and inspiration. (Avnei Ezel (Rabbi Alexander Zusia Friedman), 1897-1943, Poland)
  2. When the Children of Israel were under hard labor in Egypt, Pharaoh decreed that they were not to be allowed to sleep in their homes so that they would not cohabit with their wives [and produce Jewish children]. Rabbi Shimon bar Halafta said, What did the daughters of Israel do? They went down to the Nile and drew water and the Holy One would summon small fish into their pitchers. They would sell the fish, and from the proceeds they would take food and wine and go out to the fields and feed their husbands there. As they ate and drank, the women would take their mirrors and look into them with their husbands. The women would say: I am better looking than you. And the men would reply: I am better looking than you. In this way, their passions were aroused and they were fruitful and multiplied.

    After the Holy One told Moses to make the sanctuary, all the men came and made contributions. Some brought silver, some gold, some copper, and some precious stones. The women asked: What do we have that we can give for the sanctuary? They arose, took their mirrors, and came to Moses. When Moses saw those mirrors, he was furious with them and said to the men: Take sticks and break their legs. What do they need the mirrors for? The Holy One said to Moses: These you regard with contempt?!? These mirrors were the cause for all the babies being born in Egypt. Take the mirrors from them and make of them a laver of copper for the priests, that the priests may become sanctified out of it. (Tanhuma Pikudei 9)
  3. Rabbi Samuel bar Nahman said: The words “Behold, it was very good” (Beresheit 1:31) refer to the impulse to good and the words “Behold, it was very good” refer to the impulse to evil. But how can the impulse to evil be termed “very good”? Because were it not for the impulse to evil, a man would not build a house, take a wife, beget children, or engage in commerce. (Bereshit Rabbah 9:7)

Sparks for Discussion

Nowhere else does the Torah tell us what objects were refashioned into the furnishings of the mishkan or who brought them. Why do you think it makes an exception and tells us that the (polished metal) mirrors of the women were used for the laver? The women would have had no way of replacing their mirrors. How do you imagine they coped without them?

The Tanhuma tells us that Moses did not want to accept the donation of the mirrors, and was apparently enraged by it. Why? What lesson did God try to teach him? What does Beresheit Rabbah add? What are we meant to learn about everything that God has created in the world?

2. ...Ninety-eight, Ninety-nine, One Hundred!

The 100 talents of silver were for casting the sockets of the sanctuary and the sockets for the curtain, 100 sockets to the 100 talents, a talent a socket. (Shemot 38:27)

  1. The number of sockets needed for the sanctuary was one hundred, the same number as that of the blessings that must be recited daily. This implies that even as the sockets served as the foundation of the sanctuary, so the daily blessings represent the foundations for the sanctity of the Jewish individual. (Hidushei HaRIM [Rabbi Isaac Meir Alter, the Gerer Rabbi, 1799-1866, Poland])
  2. Rabbi Meir said, a person is obligated to recite 100 berakhot every day, as it is written, “And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God demand of you?” (Devarim 10:12) [Rabbi Meir reads mah (mem-hay, what) as me’ah (mem-aleph-hay, hundred)] (Menahot 43b)
  3. A person should taste nothing before he utters a blessing. Since “the earth is the Lord’s, and all that it holds” (Tehillim 24:1), a person embezzles from God when he makes use of this world without uttering a blessing. (Tosefta Berakhot 4:1)
  4. The berakhah, like most of Jewish prayer, is both a declaration of dependence and an expression of gratitude praising our Creator for the many gifts with which we are blessed. Prayer, which begins with the self, can move us away from self-centeredness and an unreflective routinization of life. Too often we take the world for granted. The berakhah is a specific way of not taking the world for granted, of responding to each of God’s gifts with awareness, awe, and gratitude. (Siddur Sim Shalom, page xii)

Sparks for Discussion

Reciting 100 blessings each day seems daunting – however, a person who prays the three daily services and recites berakhot before and after eating will accomplish it easily. Do you think this minimum daily requirement of 100 berakhot should be taken literally? What point is Rabbi Meir trying to make? How often do you say berakhot outside of services or communal meals? How do you feel when you stop to say a berakhah?


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