Shabbat Message from Rabbi Metz – D’var Torah: A Woman’s Gifts

March 9, 2018
By Beth Mordecai
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Shabbat Message from Rabbi Metz – D’var Torah: A Woman’s Gifts

Good Morning,

This week I would like to share with you a thought-provoking interpretation of this week’s Torah portion.  This was written by one of my teachers, Rabbi Joel Levy, of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

We will discuss this further Shabbat morning.

Please share your thoughts with me at

D’var Torah: A Woman’s Gifts

Rabbi Joel Levy, Rosh Yeshiva, Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem 

This double parasha, which describes the building of the tabernacle in the wilderness, mentions various contributions made specifically by the Israelite women. The first is found in Exodus 35:25-26: “…every woman wise of mind with their hands they spun … the goats’-hair.” By way of the ancient and time-consuming activity of hand-spinning – twisting fibers together to produce thread – they played an essential role in the manufacture of the cloth that hung on the tabernacle walls and adorned its holy vessels. A second contribution, this time of goods rather than services, is mentioned in Exodus 38:8:

8) And he made the basin of bronze, and its pedestal of bronze, out of the mirrors of the women’s collective that would gather at the entrance of the tent of meeting. ח) וַיַּעַשׂ אֵת הַכִּיּוֹר נְחֹשֶׁת וְאֵת כַּנּוֹ נְחֹשֶׁת בְּמַרְאֹת הַצֹּבְאֹת אֲשֶׁר צָבְאוּ פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד.

What should we make of this contribution? How does it compare to the time-consuming labor of hand-spinning thread? Beyond giving Betzalel the raw material needed to make the tabernacle’s bronze basin, is there significance to the contribution being mirrors?

Two medieval commentators, Rashi and Ibn Ezra, come to answer these questions. Incorporating a midrash in his commentary, Rashi writes that Moses was initially angry when he saw the offering of mirrors and wanted to reject them. Moses associated the mirrors with the “Yetzer HaRa” – the lustful Evil Inclination – because they are used by women to beautify themselves and arouse their partners. But God told Moses to think again – to consider the mirrors an extra special gift because they had been used by the Israelite women in Egypt to entice their partners, weary from long days of back-breaking slave labor. According to Rashi, the mirrors should be seen not as tools of vanity, but as objects made holy by their role in ensuring Jewish survival. It may be a stretch, but one could also read Rashi, and this midrash, as affirming beauty and sexuality.

Ibn Ezra, however, takes a different approach. He writes that the donation of the mirrors signaled a new breed of women – women no longer interested in playing upon their appearance to become wives and mothers. This “women’s collective” came regularly to the Tent of Meeting to pray and hear words of Torah; the new spiritual life offered by the Tabernacle enabled such women to find meaning outside the traditional roles assigned to them by society. So giving up a mirror is more properly read as a symbolic gesture indicating a rejection of beauty and sexuality.

This rich and timely argument speaks to a deep tension within Judaism and religion in general. Our society encourages young and old alike, either implicitly or explicitly, to care about how they look – often at the expense of more significant and meaningful accomplishment. Synagogues spend precious resources for interior decorators to come beautify the spaces in which we learn and pray, leaving less to spend on the learning and praying activities themselves!

For Rashi, aesthetics and being “turned on by what we see” are necessary and even holy when harnessed to ensure continuity. For Ibn Ezra, scruffiness is next to godliness because there are simply more interesting and important things to think about than how things look. Are we striking the right balance?

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Category : Rabbi Rabbi's Journal Shabbat