Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Vayakhel 76 - The Copper Mirrors and Photos of your Children

Which task was more difficult - the creation of the world or the building of the mishkan –tabernacle? The  Talmud –Ketuvot 5  makes a comparison between  them and says that the deeds of the righteous, the building of the mishkan are greater than  the act of creation of the world which was done with  one hand  ,"my hand established the land  "-   "אף ידי יסדה ארץ but the building of the tabernacle   , was  the work of both hands –"  "מקדש ה′ כוננו ידיך- your hands have established God's sanctuary .The source of holiness and purity is from Hashem-God , but its manifestation in this world depends of acts of the people and especially  righteous ones who themselves are described as the sanctuary of Hashem. The task of building the mishkan and its keilim-utensils was given to Betzalel. It involved more than just producing and manufacturing the utensils. The primary task was to use חכמה ומלכת מחשבת   , wisdom, thoughtful design and craft. It meant injecting all the utensils- keilim with holiness and purity – kedushah and ta'harah so that they would be the conduit to channel God's abundance in the form of wisdom, Torah, prosperity, forgiveness and atonement to the people. Betzalel would thus relate to the utensils on the deepest level of understanding and intentions in order to inject them with kedusha - holiness.
 With regard to the Kiyor- washbasin –laver ,  it is written that Betzalel made the copper washbasin and its copper base out of the mirrors of the dedicated women [ha-tzove'ot] who congregated at the entrance of the Communion Tent. (Ex. 38:8). The Midrash commentary gives the background. Moses rejected these copper mirrors because mirrors, although they are important for the husband –wife relationship, they are perceived as objects that promote lust, vanity and self-centeredness. God told Moses to accept them, because they are more precious than anything else because through them a new generation, legions of people was born. The women, by their faith, courage and ingenuity, secured Jewish survival. The Egyptians not only had a policy of infanticide towards the boys, but decided to destroy desire with back-breaking slave labor and interrupt family life by preventing men from returning home and being with their wives. The righteous women used the mirrors to make themselves up and adorn themselves. They then went into the fields to tend to their weary and tired husbands and seduce them  using the mirrors. Together they would look at each other in the mirror and the wife would say to the husband ' I am more beautiful than you ' and this would arouse the husband and lead to intimacy.
The women's dedication to their husbands and the future of the nation of Israel  ,  injected kedusha- holiness and sanctity into the mirrors which made them fitting for the kiyor – the washbasin. The water from the kiyor was used by the Priests-Kohanim to sanctify and purify their hands and feet as they entered the Mishkan to do the daily service, a reminder that kedusha depends on a person's intentions, actions, thoughts and motivations. The water from the' kiyor ' was also used in the process to restore marital harmony and trust when a wife was suspected of being unfaithful and misusing her passions.
The Midrash said that the mirrors were not only used to help the woman put on their makeup, but she also wanted her husband to look in the mirror and see how beautiful she was. The question is asked, why didn't the wife simply say to the husband,' look at me '– without using the mirror - , 'I am more beautiful than you'. The answer is that people tend to 'project' their feelings and state of mind onto the people they are interacting with. This is even more so when people are stressed out, over-worked and depressed. They don't see the other person and here ' a wife ' as an independent entity outside of themselves. They see them as extensions of themselves. It takes a photograph or seeing the person in a mirror in order to see the other person as somebody separate from them and see their real beauty, depth and many levels.
As parents and educators we need to regularly look at photos of children. We, especially parents see children as extensions of ourselves or there just to do what they are told, be compliant and don't make trouble. When children are viewed only in terms of meeting our expectations, then any inappropriate behavior is seen as an attempt to avoid tasks, attention seeking or attempting to get something. But if we see kids as separate from ourselves, as independent entities with a neshama and soul, we can start to see the world through their eyes and acknowledge that they too have legitimate concerns, perspectives and needs. We all seek attention, avoid tasks that we don't find appealing or try to get what we want. The difference is that some kids don't have the skills to do that in an appropriate way. When there are unsolved problems or infractions we may try to motivate a kid to behave better using rewards, punishments, consequences or non-verbal rewards like praise. When we do this, we first are only concerned about our unmet expectations of kids and getting them to be compliant. We totally ignore their concerns or any of their unmet needs. But if we use collaborative problem solving we first explore their concerns and help them put them on the table so they feel understood, we then share our concerns and then try to solve the problem by finding a mutually satisfying solution that addresses both concerns.
When it comes to learning, academics or even sports we focus on achievement and kids meeting our goals and expectations. We are not concerned whether the kids enjoy or can relate to what they are learning and doing and whether they find the activity interesting and enjoyable. We are only concerned with success and failure. We need to take heed of the words of Jerome Bruner – those kids should experience success and failure only as information so we can help them focus on what they are doing, connect to what they are doing and not focus on how they are doing. It is only when we see them as separate entities with their own wishes and personalities that we can respect their autonomy and respects their choices.
Sanctity and kedushah means that we relate to people and the world with depth and on a higher level. Just as we try to elevate the material world and inject spirituality with our thoughts, intentions, and motives and how we use the world also trying to benefit others and the community, we need to relate to people and especially our spouses, children and students, not as projections of ourselves but as separate people with souls. We need to connect to children etc on this higher level, and connect to their souls so we can help them to help themselves to elevate themselves and the world around them.

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