After spending time in Eretz Yisrael things are different. This cities are bigger, the workplace more faceless. On one hand the people who surround you as you walk to the train are more indifferent and on the other hand they are subtly more judgmental. They brand you, and you brand them. It takes an instant. How you look isn't just a matter of your own taste; like it or not, it's your statement about how you want to be seen.
This effects many things. One of them is how you relate to your mirror. Is your mirror one of your most precious possessions? It's hard to imagine living without one. The only kind of mirror I don't want to have, is the kind that magnifies every pore. It's easy to think of mirrors and the obsession with appearance that is so ‘Today’ ,as the Tool of Satan and the Weapon of the Vain. This isn't the picture you end up with when you look at the beginning of this week's Parshah. The laver is described at the very beginning of the narrative. The what?
Come on, be honest, how many of you have any idea of what a laver is? It's a word like phylacteries and firmament. No one uses any of these words in normal conversation. They do all have an erudite sound to them. Laver means basin. The one described at the Parshah’s beginning was created out of the copper that was made out of the mirrors used by your great great grandmothers during the time of their enslavement. Why did they make themselves mirrors? They were slaves. Who could they possibly be out to impress? The mirrors were for "domestic use only" Before their husbands came home, they used the mirrors that they made by polishing copper to a high gloss to see themselves. They did their best to pretty themselves up, to fish their supper straight out of the Nile, and to have their men come home to the smell of food, and the atmosphere created by a woman whose appearance tells them that she still cares, and wants to bear children. These women saw a future when it looked like there was no future. They had hope when a sane person would have given up.
Nothing could be further from them, than the self-absorption and insecurity that you can easily associate with looking in the mirror. When they saw themselves, they saw women who were strong enough to take the chance of believing.
The laver was used for the Kohanim. They washed their hands and feet (remember, they didn't wear shoes or socks in the Mishkan or the Bais HaMikdash) in the water that poured out of its spigots. This kind of washing, like the washing that we do before eating bread, was for spiritual purity rather than just physical cleanliness - in fact nothing is allowed to intervene between the water and the hands. This kind of purity is the kind of purity that the mirrors in Egypt had absorbed from the women who used them.
What does this say to you?
Maybe it tells you that your bodies are noble, important and should be taken seriously. Orchos Tzadikim tells you that you should regard your body the way you would regard marble statues in the anteroom of a palace. They are well kept, spotless. If you were responsible for them, you would do everything to see that their beauty remains unmarred. If you did not it wouldn't be just a statement about you, it would be a statement about your relationship to the King.
When Rebbitzen Risha Kotler parted from her father on the railway station, they both knew it would be the last time that they see each other. She was headed to Shanghai with her husband; her father didn't have the papers that would have made his escape possible. The Nazi war machine was swallowing up everything in its way and they would soon capture the ground that they were standing on. He asked her to promise him something. She asked him what he wanted her to promise; she valued her commitments enough to not tell him that she would do something that was beyond her reach. "I want you to see that your shoes are always tied and that you walk straight and not look any man in the eye". His requests were strange; decades later when she told me about this last meeting, there was still a tone of wonder in her voice. She had expected him to ask for more - to keep the mitzvos, or to remember her family's standards. This seemed so irrelevant to what she would be facing in the next chapter of her life's story.
When the Americans liberated Shanghai, the others marched into its streets with the self-assuredness of victors. They were young, strong, untried by the privations of years of wartime. They were carefree, generous, and arrogant. There was something about the way she carried herself, and the self-possession that everything about her echoed that made them know instinctively that she was out of their range; not for sale and not for the kind of artificial friendship that seemed so natural at the time.
Have a great week and a wonderful "little Purim", the Adar 1 version of the Purim we will all celebrate next month, Adar 2. It is a time of miracles, of redefinition and of simchah