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Rabbi Safman's Weekly Message

Dear Friends,

As we join together to celebrate Shabbat we invite you to bring a kiddush cup or any glass filled with wine or grape juice and join together with us at the end of services to share in a l'chayim.

I look forward to celebrating Shabbat with you.

Rabbi K

Ki Tissa and Parah 5783 ~ March 10, 2023

One of the beautiful items found near the Mishkan, the Holy Tabernacle in the wilderness, was the washing laver for the kohanim. Our Torah reading from the first of two sifre Torah this week describes the copper laver and its copper stand, and the requirement for the kohanim to wash their feet and hands prior to entering the Tent of Meeting. 

Commentaries suggest that the laver was in many ways like a mirror. Rashi tells us that the mirrors were actually used by the women to adorn themselves in preparation for their husbands returning from their hard labor as slaves in Egypt. When the husbands came home, tired and exhausted, the women would entice their husbands by having the husbands gaze into their mirrors with them. The women would say how much more beautiful they were than their husbands. Rashi states that would entice men… and, from that, the Israelite slaves became large in numbers. (I will leave the dots for you to fill in the missing pieces of the picture.)

Just this past week at a funeral service for a member of our Jewish community, I was asked by the family why mirrors are covered at a house of shiva. I shared with them the three thoughts. The first was simply that during the time of mourning, we are not supposed to be concerned about our outward appearance. Instead, we are supposed to be reflective of our mourning, the loss of a loved one, and observing the moment to honor their lives. The second reason is that, according to medieval superstitions, souls resided in the mirrors. Since Judaism does believe in conjuring up the dead, covering the mirrors allowed the loved one to make their transition to the Gan Eden.  The third reason is that evil spirits reside in the mirror and there is no reason to conjure them up when one is mourning and does not have time to provide charms, amulets or formulas of prayer to ward off the evil eye. At such moments, the mourner might be in the frame of mind that the loss of their loved one has taken place by the hand of the evil spirit, including the malach hamavet, the angel of death, and they have experienced enough. Simply covering the mirrors protects them from even more calamities. Might I add that covering the mirrors might remind those coming to pay their respects at a shiva home that they should not become one of those spirits that speaks or brings more negatives into the home.

In the case of our Torah reading, the purpose of the copper washing basin was first and foremost to raise the spiritual level of the kohain to a level of kedushah, holiness, prior to offering the sacrifice for either an individual or the community. Looking into the copper laver, the priest of the Temple was able to see himself, and, in doing so, was able to better comprehend his role and his need to raise his level of spirituality.  While we do not have wash basins in shuls, we do have washing cups prior to eating bread, of which many are made of copper. There is also a tradition of negel vaser which is water that is place in a cup to wash one’s hand upon waking from a night’s sleep and for when we recite the beracha of “al netilat yadaim,” of raising one’s hands for the day as the kohanim did when they used the copper laver.  As such we become our own kohanim for the day, responsible for our actions and our spiritual connections not only with God, but with people in general. We refrain from using a laver in synagogues simply because the non-Jewish world has incorporated this ritual into their service and we do not want to, in any way, give the impression that we are participating in their ritual of expression to their deity.

The end of our reading follows in some ways with the first part of our reading since it is the glow of Moshe as he comes down the mountain with the second set of the Ten Commandments. Moshe has a spiritual glow that is almost blinding to everyone else. He is required to cover his face with a veil in order to protect others since he has the presence of Hashem glowing on his face. We all know that from the words in the Hebrew of  “horns of light,” Moshe was depicted with having horns by those who not only do not know Hebrew, but also by those who choose to depict Jewish people in a “negative light.”

In the second reading, Parashat Parah, we are reminded of the ashes of the Red Heifer that were sprinkled upon individuals who had been in close contact with a corpse (even of their loved one.) During Passover, one who was ritually impure due to being in close proximity to a meit (one who was deceased), or touched an item in the home of the deceased, was not permitted to participate in the paschal lamb. One month prior, in order to bring ritual purity into the community, those who had been defiled by a corpse were instructed to have the ritual of the sprinkling of the Red Heifer’s ashes performed so that they could participate in the Paschal lamb. Today, reading the selection reminds us that Passover is on its way (now less than a month) and that we need to make appropriate preparations. And while it is said that when the Mashiach will come, all of the kohanim who would perform the ritual of sacrifice will need to have gone through this ritual of the Red Heifer, at this time, it reminds us of our need to look into the copper lavers in our personal lives, as described in our first reading, and find our connectivity to our spiritual selves as we are each our own kohain to ourselves, and we need to be reflective on how our image of spirituality connects to our faces and to our neshamot, our souls.

Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi  K



Thu, March 23 2023 1 Nisan 5783