And he made a laver of brass, and the base thereof of brass, of the mirrors of the serving women that did service at the door of the tent of meeting. (Exodus 39: 8)
In the previous parasha we learned about the enthusiasm with which the Israelites offered their gold jewelry to make the Golden Calf and the devastating results of that episode. Now in Parashat Vayakhel the Bible tells us of their generosity in connection with the creation of the Tabernacle and its furnishings: “Men and women all whose hearts moved them, all who would make an elevation offering of gold to the Lord, came bringing brooches, earrings, rings and pendants. Everyone who would make gifts of silver or copper brought them ….” (Exod. 35:22-24).
The text emphasizes that the people brought these offerings of their own free will and even gave more than was needed. Obviously we sense here that the Israelites wished to atone for their grievous sinning in connection with the Golden Calf.
The text of this parasha, which describes the Tabernacle furnishings in detail, refers to the laver in only one somewhat ambiguous verse: “He made the laver of copper and its stand of copper from the mirrors [marot] of the women [hatzovot] who performed tasks at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting” (Exod. 38:8).
What is the special significance of this single verse? Why does the text stress the fact that the copper for the laver was to be taken from the women’s copper mirrors, and not from other copper donated for the Tabernacle? Why did Moses choose to use mirrors, an object of feminine vanity, for making the vessel in which the priests would wash and purify their hands and feet? What were the “tasks” that the women performed at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting?
Avner Moriah’s painting hints at the answers. Of all of the Tabernacle’s furnishings mentioned in the parasha, he focused on the laver, a sign of sanctity for the priests according to God’s command in the previous parasha: “Make a laver of copper, and a stand of copper base for it, for washing and place it between the Tent of Meeting and the altar. Put water in it…. And let Aaron and his sons wash their hands and feet there in water drawn from it…they shall wash their hands and feet, that they may not die…” (Exod. 30:18-19, 21).
The group of women seen next to the laver facing the High Priest in both sections of the picture are in matching dresses, standing very closely together. On the right, each one is carrying a round copper-colored object, which suggests a mirror. As understood from the feminine word hatzovot, the verse refers to women assembling to serve at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.
The expression “who performed tasks” may relate to some type of service to atone for their having offered gold to make the Golden Calf. Accepting their part in the Israelites’ idolatry, which was punished by the death of so many of the people, the women, anxious to repent, were giving up their precious mirrors to make the laver for the priests’ purification. Although it was not considered part of the Tabernacle furnishings, the laver was a very important part of the priestly ritual.
In the image on the right, the women seem to be throwing their mirrors into a deep round vessel, under which we see a fire burning, so the copper will be melted down and then be used to form the laver. In the left-hand image, the High Priest is joyfully raising his arms, a sign of gratitude for the women’s repentance and for their gifts, which would enable the shaping of the laver for the purification of the priests so that they might escape death.
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