Parashat Vayakhel

Sacred Relationships

The mirrors used to create the basin in the Tabernacle teach us that sanctified sexuality means seeing ourselves in relation to others.

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Moses objected to them as being unfit for inclusion in the Tabernacle. What he saw, according to Rashi, was mirrors in which women looked at themselves when applying their makeup, an essentially narcissistic behavior.

God, on the other hand, was focusing on a different mirror, a mirror in which there were two people, a wife and a husband, playfully celebrating each other's beauty. The "I am more beautiful than you" line which the wives used in this story, takes the inherent narcissism and self-absorption of a woman at her vanity table applying makeup, and cleverly turns it into a way to communicate, to reach out to another person. God is of the opinion that the mirrors, the token of that interaction, are precisely, more than anything else ["these are dearer to me than all the rest"], what belongs in the Temple.

Just as the food and drink that the women brought to their husbands represent a communication, an offering, and, therefore, a sanctification of sorts of the physical--something which is uniquely appropriate to the Temple--so, too, the way the mirrors are used in the story in Egypt represent a sanctification of the sexual. They represent an intimacy that brings strength, joy, and comfort to one's partner. An intimacy in which one reaches out to another individual, and beyond, to unborn generations.

Understanding Our Physical Selves

The question, "what do you see when you look in the mirror?" is a question about how we understand our physical selves. Moses' answer is not wrong; when all I see when I look in the mirror is a physicality (and therefore a sexuality) that is essentially about oneself and one's own pleasure--as symbolized by a person looking at herself and only herself in the mirror--that is 'the evil inclination', and should be rejected.

God, on the other hand, sees the women who, when they looked in the mirror, saw not only themselves but, rather, saw themselves in relationship to another. God, therefore, wants the Temple to celebrate that; a physicality and a sexuality that is about two people, that is, in fact, about many people--'congregations,' the progeny of an intimate relationship between two individuals. When the women congregate at the entrance of the Meeting Tent and offer these same mirrors, they are again attempting to use the physical in order to achieve spiritual goals.

The fact that, in the Temple ritual, the sink acts as a mediator between a couple that has lapsed into a mode of jealousy and suspicion (when the waters of the sink are used as part of the 'sotah' ritual which can reunite the two), makes the choice of the mirrors for its construction particularly appropriate. It is by seeing themselves together in these mirrors, as a couple, as their foremothers and forefathers did in Egypt, and not as separate individuals with separate, narcissistic desires and needs, that the troubled couple may find peace, and be reunited.

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Rabbi Shimon Felix

Rabbi Shimon Felix is the Israel Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. He lives with his family in Jerusalem, and has taught in a wide variety of educational frameworks in Israel and abroad.