There was an interesting hea’arah that I had when learning through the words of Chazal on last week’s Parsha, Parshas Va’Yakhel. The Torah teaches us there that among the donations given for the sake of building the Mishkan were something called Marot Tzova’ot (The mirrors of tzovaot) which were made out of bronze, (Shemos 38:8) which were ultimately used to make the kiyor, (the fountain from which the kohanim would wash their hands).
The Midrash and Rashi (ad loc.) tell us that when Moshe Rabbenu received these mirrors – he was upset and wanted to refuse them. Why you ask? It is because the mirrors are used for the sake of the yetzer ha’ra, (the evil inclination). HaShem, however, thought differently. To Him, they were among the greatest of all donations, because it was via these mirrors that the children of Israel became a multitude. How so? It’s because the women of Israel, after a hard days work, would bring food and water to their exhausted husbands. After eating the women would take out these mirrors and look in them along with their husbands. “I’m more beautiful than you” the women would say, arousing the desire of the exhausted males who would then be intimate with their wives, which resulted in the multitudes of children born in Egypt.
Now, looked at on face-value it’s a nice story. On a deeper level, however, there is so much that we need to learn from this.
The most obvious of issues relates to something that Shlomo HaMelech writes in Mishlei (Proverbs) 14:1 “The wisdom of women builds her house, whereas a foolish woman with her own hands she will destroy it”. These women were careful to consider and understand both the needs and the desires of her two partners in life, (i.e. her husband and HaShem). They took an active roll in ensuring the integrity and the intimacy of their relationship. However, as that is not the topic I would like to speak of here, (a topic for another time and place. WH”h, in Core Emmuna book 4 this will be discussed), I will, therefore, get back on target.
Are mirrors a good thing, or a bad thing?
From the Midrash it would seem that both are possible, so what was the difference between the two cases? Are they intrinsically bad, or intrinsically good? The issue, it seems, really is dependent upon WHY YOU ARE LOOKING IN IT? Are you looking in it to see YOU, or are you looking in it for the sake of others?
From the Midrash, and from the Talmud at the end of the first chapter of Tractate Nedarrim, it would seem clear that when you look in the mirror to see yourself, and to admire yourself – then they are terrible! They are the gateway to many very severe problems.
However, if the purpose of looking in the mirror is for the sake of OTHERS, then a mirror can be a thing of holiness.
Am I looking in the mirror in order to admire myself? Then it’s REALLY BAD.
But am I looking in the mirror in order to ensure that my spouse finds me attractive (and I mean specifically my spouse) then it’s a good thing. [As an aside: I know there is a machlokes among modern poskim whether or not it is permissible for a man to beautify himself in the mirror or not. I am making the assertion based on those who hold it to be permissible, for that is the minhag ha’olam today]. Am I looking in the mirror to make sure that my appearance shouldn’t cast a negative spin on those who learn Torah? Then it’s a good thing. In fact, the Torah and the Halacha require of me to do so, (see Rambam Hilchos Talmud Torah).
The reason for this is because life itself is really not ABOUT ME! It’s about what I can do for others. It’s about what I am here for, not the skills and the gifts that I was given to do so with. More on this, wH”h, in Core Emmuna vol. 3!
So, why do YOU look in the mirror?
In any case, food for thought. Unfortunately, as it is erev Shabbos I have to run! A gut Shabbos to all!