With a Little Reflection, a Change of Heart

This blog was originally published by Limmud On One Leg March 23, 2017.
It is a commentary on Torah portion Vayakhel-Pekudei. Vayakhel-Pekudei recounts the actual building of the Mishkan, following instructions stated earlier in Parsha Terumah.


With a little reflection, a change of heart.

Vayakel-Pekudei finds us coming forward with an outpouring of self and heart in gift-giving for the building of the Mishkan: “…the men came, along with the women, all, moved by their hearts (Exodus 35:22).” This is a complete reversal from just a few parshiot before where, amidst the mystery of the voices and flames, the shofar and the smoking mountain, we held back: “the people saw and trembled and stood afar off (Exodus 20:15).”

From standing far off to coming near. From stepping back to gushing forward. From holding back in fear to generously giving. How could such a reversal occur?

“He made the basin of copper and its base of copper, from the mirrors of the women who had gathered at the entrance to the Tent of Appointed Meeting (Exodus 38:8)”. In the heart of this heart-filled parsha is this simple verse, hidden between the grand details of the construction of the Sanctuary and the creating of the priestly garments. In the heart of the heart, as subtle as the still, quiet voice, is the turning point.

From where do the mirrors come? The Midrash tells us they were used by the Israelite women during the time of harsh labor in Egypt, when the men no longer cohabitated with their wives. The women would “take the mirrors and look into them with their husbands, and she would say, ‘I am more comely than you,’ and he would say, ‘I am more comely than you.’ And as a result they would accustom themselves to desire, and they were fruitful and multiplied, and Hashem took note of them immediately (Midrash Tanchumah – Pekudei 9).”

Mirrors reflect a reversed image. In compelling the men to take another look, the women, through their mirrors, reflected back a different possibility. Rather than the impotent constraints of slavery that the men perceived, provoked into looking more closely – beyond appearances, seeing a reversed image of their current position – they were able to envision a fertile future, one which they dared to conceive and give birth to.

“I love mirrors. They let one pass through the surface of things.” Claude Chabrol

In the mirrors lies our means for transformation. Like the copper from which they are made, they reveal that what appears rigid at first glance is, in fact, mutable. Brought by the women ‘at the entrance’, if we dare look at the reversed reflection of the barrenness of old patterns, we can ‘pass through the surface of things’, how things appear to be, and cross the threshold into new ways of being.

Rashi says it is with these mirrors that the women “awakened their husband’s desire (Rashi on Shemot 38:8)”. In this week’s parsha we read the word heart again and again, “moved by their hearts”, “wise-hearted”, “whose heart had lifted him up”. Through a looking again, we can re-awaken our hearts, returning to the richness of possibility, where distance is exchanged for coming close, fear transforms to love, and our desire for connecting through the generous giving of our self are rekindled.