Parshat Ki Tisa - 5766
"And you shall make a brass basin, and its brass base for washing. And you shall place it between the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and you shall place water in it" (xxx, 18). The commandment regarding the basin is written separately from the other vessels of the Mishkan, since the vessels are for the Sanctuary service whereas the basin is there to make man fit for the work. "When they come into the Tent of Meeting they shall wash with water and they shall not die; or when they approach the altar for service, to offer fire as incense to Hashem. And they shall wash their hands and their feet and they shall not die, and it shall be for them an everlasting statute, for him and his seed for their generations" (20-21).
The basin was placed between the Tent of Meeting [Ohel Mo'ed] and the altar. When referring to the basin's function it is again stressed that the Kohanim must wash their hands and feet "when they come into the Tent of Meeting or when they approach the altar." The Tent of Meeting and the altar form the principles of intellect and will respectively. "The principle of the intellect at its source is the Divine speech, upon which the Tent of Meeting was founded – 'the Tent of Meeting, where I will meet you there.' And the altar is the source of the offering of the will, the principle of sacrifice, 'as good-will before Hashem'" (Orot Re'iyah, p. 119). In order to purify himself one must draw his strength from both the intellect and the pure will, from the Tent of Meeting and the altar. If a person tries to invent a human method of correcting his life, his failure is guaranteed. (Every so often we encounter human approaches that try to enable people to lead pure and peaceful lives, but after a while the "bubble" bursts and reveals its inner hollowness.) Only the connection to the Divine root can provide us with the tools with which we can make our lives fitting, in such a manner that we can live our inner truths, the Divine truth. This is why the Torah emphasizes the location of the basin, between the Tent of Meeting and the altar. Rashi adds: "The basin was drawn a little to one side and was located away from the space between the altar and the Mishkan. It did not divide at all between them, as it states, 'And the altar of the burnt offering at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting' – in other words, the altar is before the Tent of Meeting, but the basin is not before the Tent of Meeting. How so? It was drawn a little southwards. This is what we learn in Zevachim." We learn from this that the principles of Divine intellect and will must not be separated. There are those who draw their intellectual lives from the Divine source, but it seems to them that will is human and therefore has no connection to the Divine root. Conversely, others hold that the will, the principle of action, must be influenced by the holy source, but as for intellectual thoughts, they are the responsibility of each individual alone. Both of these understanding are incorrect. Intellect and will must both be connected to the Divine root, and they must not be separated from each other. Hence the basin is drawn to the south, so that it does not separate between the Tent of Meeting – the intellect - and the altar – the will. We draw both of these strengths from their Divine source.
Once the Divine source of his strengths is made clear to a person, he can approach the work in practice. Now he begins to purify himself and prepares his strengths for the service of Hashem, and therefore before he approaches the service of the altar or the Mishkan he washes his hands and feet. Hands and feet are a person's forces of action, which must be sanctified before he begins to use them. The Gemara in Berachot (10a) states" "Said R. Yossi bar Chanina in the name of R. Eliezer ben Yakov: One who prays must join his feet together, as it states: 'And their feet were a straight foot.'" The Maharal in Netiv Avodah (Ch. 6) explains: "A person must realize that nothing he has is his own whatsoever, rather he receives everything from the Blessed One. Now one might think that even though he receives he still possesses something of his own, but (the truth is that) a person must realize that he has nothing of his own whatsoever. Therefore it states that he 'must join his feet together,' because the joining of the feet indicates this idea, that on his own it is as though a person is unable to act at all, since it all starts with his feet, which lead him to where he can do what he desires." One who is tied to a particular place is unable to act and cannot actualize his desires. Therefore our feet form the basis of our behavior and activities. During prayer (the Sh'moneh Esreh) we must stand with our feet together to express the fact that we have no strength of our own with which to act, but rather all our strength comes from Hakadosh Baruch Hu. The same idea is revealed through the sanctification of the Kohanim's feet before they approach to perform the serve of Hashem. The Maharal proceeds to explain: "And that is also why they wrote that a person must place his hands linked over his heart (during prayer) until he is unable to perform any action, as all is tied from this moment, both his feet with which he goes to the place where he can perform the action he desires, as well as his hands, which are the tools with which he acts. Therefore he brings his feet together and links his hands over his heart, and now the person will realize that none of what he has is his own, but rather all is from the lofty state of the Blessed One, and none of it is from himself at all."
Hands are the real tools that a person uses for action. During prayer, they must also be connected to the Divine source. Therefore one must stand during prayer with hands linked over the heart. Both of these matters have been codified as law in the Shulchan Aruch (95): "He should join his feet together as though they were only one, in order to be like the angels, about whom it states, ''And their feet were a straight foot.' In other words, 'their feet appeared as one foot.' He links (meaning: ties) his hands over his heart, the right over the left; and stands as a servant before his master, with fear, dread and fright." When the Kohen approaches the Mishkan or the altar so as to act with his strengths, he must sanctify those strengths – the feet, which form the principle of action, with which he can walk in order to act, and the hands which perform the actions themselves.
When a person draws his strengths from the Divine source, and before he approaches the performance he sanctifies himself, it is guaranteed that his actions will be accepted before Hashem.
These things should be before our eyes no matter what we do, not just during prayer or during the service of the Kohanim in the Beit Mikdash. We are required to develop and improve Hakadosh Baruch Hu's world, but we must remember that it is the Divine source that provides us with the strength to act. We are also demanded to sanctify ourselves in practice before we approach to perform the activities that advance reality. Only in such a manner will we merit to truly be Hashem's servants. This point is made clear to us through the command concerning Shabbat that appears in our Parsha: "And now speak to the children of Israel saying: You shall guard My Shabbatot, for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I am Hashem who sanctifies you. And you shall guard the Shabbat, for it is holy to you…" (xxi, 13-14).
Shabbat is a reminder of the act of creation. It serves as testimony that Hashem performed all the actions, and therefore it reveals holiness in the world, as it states in our Parsha: "It is a sign forever, for in six days Hashem made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and rested" (17). This holiness is an original one, independent of mankind. The holiness of Israel, who are commanded to keep Shabbat, is also an original Divine sanctity, one that does not result from man's actions. "…To know that I am Hashem who sanctifies you," means that Hakadosh Baruch Hu makes us holy. Out of the original holiness of Shabbat and the original holiness of Israel, we are commanded to reveal these sanctifications in reality, and this is what the Torah states: "And the children of Israel guarded the Shabbat, to make the Shabbat an everlasting covenant" (17).
When we keep it, we "make the Shabbat." Through our strengths we reveal the holiness of Shabbat in practice. This is because we our in our essence holy, and therefore are capable of revealing the holiness of Shabbat. This is an inner sign, imprinted in our essence: "Between Me and the children of Israel, it is an everlasting sign…" (17).
The original sanctity of Shabbat is revealed to us through the keeping of Shabbat in practice. This idea is revealed to us through Moshe. When Moshe descends from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of testimony in his hands, it turns out that "Moshe did not know that the skin of his face shone when they spoke to him. And Aharon and all the children of Israel saw Moshe, and behold the skin of his face shone, and they feared to approach him" (xxxiv, 29-30). Moshe's ascent on Mount Sinai was wondrous: "And he was there with Hashem forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water" (28). Such an ascent goes beyond regular material existence. Yet this lofty status is not disconnected from actual life. Therefore when Moshe descends from the mount, those same lofty spiritual forces that Moshe had acquired found expression in his face. The skin of Moshe's face shone. Undoubtedly this level is a very lofty one, and cannot be made use of on a permanent basis, in-between times, and therefore, "…and he placed a mask over his face" (32). Yet this level will assuredly be revealed permanently in the future. This is "'A Mizmor song for the Shabbat day,' a Mizmor song for the future, a day that is all Shabbat and rest, for everlasting life."
When we will draw our strengths from the Divine and holy source of life, and at the same time act so as to reveal that Divine source in the world, we shall merit being active with G-d in the revelation of the Divine light in the world.
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