Parshat Ki Tisa (5771)

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“You shall make a washstand of copper … for washing, and … Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and feet … when they enter the Tent of Meeting” – Exodus 30:18-20

The copper washstand used by the Kohanim to wash their hands and feet before serving in the Mishkan was made of a unique material – molten mirrors! These were the mirrors used by the women under slavery in Egypt, and which they took with them into the desert. They were made not of reflective glass but of highly polished copper, and when Moses asked the people to donate material towards the construction of the Mishkan and its utensils the women, very generously, gave these mirrors as part of their donation. They were melted down and reworked into a beautiful kiyor – a washstand for washing the Kohanim before entering the house of G-d.

The commentaries note that Moses did not want to accept these mirrors – assuming that they were tainted by the acts of vanity they may have been used for. Yet G-d specifically wanted their inclusion. Maybe one of the reasons for this was the inherent value of someone donating an object which is of great value to themselves (even if monetarily it may not be worth much). The women’s donation of these personal items was worth much more than the donation of gold and jewels collected as spoil from a vanquished Egypt.

Sometimes it is not what we give – but how we give. The pauper’s pennies may be of more value to G-d than the magnate’s millions.

There is a beautiful story which illustrates this principle.

Rabbi Gavriel, a disciple of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (known as the “Alter Rebbe”), and his wife, Chana Rivka, had been married for twenty-five years, but were childless. Rabbi Gavriel had been a prosperous merchant in Vitebsk, but hard times and persecution had destroyed Gavriel’s fortune.

The Alter Rebbe was at that time trying to arrange for the release of some Jewish prisoners. Large sums of ransom money were needed, which the Rebbe attempted to raise amongst his followers. Gavriel was asked to donate a certain sum – but he could not, and he was heartbroken at not being able to participate in the great commandment of Pidyon Shevuyim (Redemption of  Captives) to the extent expected of him.

On learning of her husband’s distress, his wife sold her pearls and jewellery for the required sum of money. She then scoured and polished the coins till they sparkled, and with a heartfelt prayer that their fortune should also begin to shine, she packed up the coins and gave them to Gavriel to bring to the Rebbe.

When he came to Rabbi Shneur Zalman, Gavriel placed the package in front of the Rebbe on the table. At the Rebbe’s request he opened the package and the coins shone with an extraordinary brilliance. The Rebbe became pensive, lost in thought for a few moments. Then he said, “Of all the gold, silver and copper which the Jews gave to build the Mishkan nothing shone but the kiyor (washstand) made from donated mirrors.” “Tell me,” continued the Rebbe, “where did you get these coins?” Gavriel told the Rebbe of his plight and how his wife Chana Rivka had raised the money.

The Rebbe rested his head on his hand, and was lost for a long while in profound thought. Then, raising his head, he blessed Gavriel and his wife with children, long years, riches and extraordinary grace. He told Reb Gavriel to close his business in Vitebsk and to deal with diamonds and precious stones. The blessing was wholly fulfilled. Gavriel became a wealthy man and the father of sons and daughters. He died at the age of 110 years and was out-lived by his wife by two years!

What so impressed the Rebbe about the donated money that he gave them such special blessings? The answer seems to be the great sacrifice made by the wife’s sale of her jewellery – but it could just be that what was really special to the Rebbe was not what was given, but how it was given. Not only did she sell her precious items, but she did it with such joy at the ability to donate towards a mitzva, that she even spent time polishing the coins to a brilliant shine.

All of us do mitzvot, some more frequently than others – but what is really precious to G-d is when we do those mitzvot not only because we have to but because it gives us great joy to do so. Like the coins in the story, when our mitzvot are done with passion, fire and dedication they begin to sparkle and shine like precious gems.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Zalman Lent

*Story reprinted from Chabad.org

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