A Torah Thought for Teens – Parshas Ki Sisa
By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
An Ounce of Prevention
Generally speaking, the Parshiyos of Terumah and Tetzaveh follow a sequential, logical pattern. Parshas Terumah introduces the various kelim (utensils) of the mishkan, along with their attributes and dimensions, while Tetzaveh lists the bigdei kodesh (priestly garments) of the kohanim. This sequence would seem to be quite appropriate. The mishkan was prepared to be the house of Hashem; the place where the Shechina (Divine Presence) rested. Therefore, first the mishkan was mentioned, along with all its kelim, followed by a description of the garments of the kohanim who would frequent the ‘house’ of Hashem.
With that in mind, the placement of the kiyor in Parshas Ki Sisa (Shmos 30:17-21) seems strikingly out of place. (The kiyor is commonly translated as the basin or the laver. The kohanim would wash their hands and feet using water from the kiyor before they began their service in the mishkan). Logic would seem to dictate that a discussion of the kiyor would be far more appropriate in Parshas Terumah – along with the other kelim of the mishkan.
The Sforno points out this difficulty and suggests an explanation. He notes that the function of the kiyor was quite different that those of the other kelim in the mishkan. The various kelim were crafted with the intent of bringing Hashem's Shechinah to rest in the midst of Klal Yisroel, while the kiyor served to purify the kohanim for their daily service of the mishkan.
Using a car, lehavdil, as a (loose) analogy, we can perhaps gain insight into this line of reasoning. A comprehensive article about a new automobile would:
1) 1) Describe details about the construction of the car,
2) 2) List its features to the driver, and finally,
3) 3) Provide instructions for its maintenance (such as changing the oil).
In a similar vein, the Torah discusses:
1) 1) The building of the mishkan (in Parshas Terumah)
2) 2) The various garments of the kohanim who served there (in Parshas Tetzaveh), and then,
3) 3) Noted the importance of maintaining the kidusha necessary for proper service of Hashem by describing the kiyor and its purifying qualities. (in Parshas Ki Sisa)
An Ounce of Prevention
I would like to suggest an entirely different understanding of the reason for the placement of the kiyor in Parshas Ki Sisa. Perhaps the kiyor was discussed in this week’s parsha as a precursor and antidote to the sin of the Egel (The Golden Calf).
An optimistic person living in the time of Moshe Rabbeinu would not be faulted for making a confident prediction that once the mishkan would be built and Hashem's presence would rest among the Jews, there would be no more sinning and the Bnei Yisroel would forever live in spiritual sync with the Shechinah.
Sadly, this was not to be. The people of that generation, who had the fortune to witness stunning miracles, were unable to maintain their spiritual plateau for very long. In fact, the Jews in the desert sinned by serving the golden calf right after receiving the Torah and EVEN BEFORE the commandment to build the mishkan was given to them!!
In fact, as we see so many times in the Torah, the cycle of sinning and repenting seems to repeat itself time and again.
Hashem is perfect. We, mortal beings, since the beginning of time, perpetually succumb to temptation and sin – seemingly at the most inopportune times. Adam and Chava sinned almost immediately after they were created. Their son Kayin similarly erred in his interaction with his brother Hevel. It is this struggle of an imperfect human being doing battle with his or her Yetzer Horah (evil inclination) that is depicted by the epic battle between Yaakov Avinu and the angel of Eisav (Bereshis 32 25-33).
Refuah Before the Makkah
As we know from the reading of Megilas Esther in these weeks, Hashem often prepares the refuah before the makkah (the remedy before the illness). In the case of the Jews in Persia, Esther was placed in a position of power before the evil decree of Haman was initiated and Mordechai saved the life of Achashverosh before the evil decree of Haman was introduced.
Perhaps a similar message is being transmitted to us with the placement of the kiyor in its location in this week’s parsha – after the completion of the mishkan and before the sin of the egel.
The Torah informs us that maintaining our level of kedusha is a cyclical –and never ending – mission. Even after the mishkan was completed, we are reminded of the ongoing need for spiritual vigilance and the renewal of our efforts to maintain our kedushah.
Rashi, quoting the Gemara, (Zevachim 19b), notes that the kohein would simultaneously wash the right hand and right foot, and then repeat this procedure for his left hand and foot. The Ramban explains that this symbolized that the highest point of a person’s body (the hand which can be raised above the head) and the lowest point, the foot, needed to be purified together – to join in serving Hashem.
Highs and Lows
This insight of the Ramban would seem to be congruent with the theme of the kiyor’s placement in Parshas Ki Sisa serving as a preparatory antidote to the sin of the egel.
We certainly hope that our spiritual gains in life (our high moments, represented by the hands) will be long lasting and perhaps even permanent. However, the Torah reminds us that even after sinning (our lows, represented by our feet), the soothing, refreshing waters of purification and repentance remain within our reach.
Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos
© 2006 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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