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by Daneal Weiner
Velkommen. Those of you not on the mailing list do not yet know that I happen to be in Vienna for a month. Vienna is a stopping point for Iranian Jews who escape Iran, legally or otherwise, and are awaiting visas to get into America. A great Jew is spending his fortune on housing and educating single boys that, G-d forbid, they do not get lost in the American void. One of the Rebbe's took a couple weeks off so this great Jew flew someone in [which happens to be me] just so the boys shouldn't miss a day of learning. These few opening thoughts [which have grown into a few more] are on the tail of last week's mailing, where I spoke a little about being here.
Did you know that halachically Austria has the status of a bathroom? Not that I didn't notice it myself but while walking home with one Iranian gentleman, he said in Iran he was able to pray on the way to Shul, but here he cannot because the streets are filled with doggy poop. [Using "doggy poop" makes it Shabbos-table allowable.]
By the way, no garbage is allowed on the streets! Each building, those I've seen so far, has a small courtyard in the back or central courtyard around which the building is built for the garbage cans. [An added benefit, it seems, is rather than having a wall with no windows apartments no have a window which looks out over the garbage cans and 15 feet across, into another's window.] During garbage pick-up, the men come into every building and roll the cans out and then roll them back in. [No stray cats in Vienna.] In this sense the streets are very clean. Except they are filled with doggy poop. And as you know, dogs are walked e-v-e-r-y day. I guess they consider it a clean, yet ever-changing landscape. Try and figure that one out.
To understand why they lost the war, however, you have to experience going into a supermarket, buying a pack of batteries, and putting them down on top of the register and NOT on the conveyor belt. Watch the fireworks fly. "Jou veel not be checked out eef you zo not vollow ze procedure. Ve have vays of making you vollow, yah?" "Dis iz the '4 to 7.5 items' line! Jew only haven ze vone item?"
Not being able to think Torah for my classes, I look around at the sites. Only having a two block walk, which I make 3 times a day, back and forth, even that becomes trying. Being winter, the billboards are not too offensive. Still there are only so many time I can look at them thinking I might suddenly figure out the German logos. Vienners, as I've been told, are a very secluded breed, so I sometimes disrupt the monotony of my walk by offering some good ol' Chicago charm by smiling and giving a "Gut morgen," to a passer-by. I particularly enjoy greeting the very elderly, if you know what I mean. "Gut morgen! [It's me, a real Jew! Would you have guessed?! Haven't seen much of the Third Reich, lately. Lots of doggy poop, though.]"
The Shul/Beis Midrash I'm teaching in goes back to pre-war times. When I heard this I responded with the usual, "Really? Wow." but I didn't dwell on it. When I finally did, from what I've seen of old European shuls, this one was very small, very simple… no elaborate wood carved Ark. No exceedingly tall and majestic decorative ceiling. So finally I asked about the reference to this being such an old shul. The answer was… well the obvious, if I bothered to think about it.
The parking lot right next door was the real, 2000 seat shul. We were in an administrative building of the shul. It survived Krystalnacht. I felt like maybe I should go visit Poland becomes maybe I don't really know that the Holocaust happened.
Only one shul in Vienna survived. The reason I was given is that somehow it is so tightly encompassed by other buildings it could not be set ablaze. If I merit visiting such a place, G-d willing, I will see what was meant. Knowing G-d's justice is measure for measure, I imagine the real reason it survived is because real prayers were said there, unlike the other shuls where people came in and parked themselves until it was time to leave.
If you really want to sense the "v'nehapoch hu"- reversal of fortune of Purim, you're going to have to come and daven with Jewish Iranian refugees, finding refuge in Vienna, along side the paved-over remains of a 2000 seat synagogue with an Austrian storm-trooper guarding the entrance against crazed muslims.
Well, now that half the night is gone and I haven't yet begun, we'll go for the shortest piece. Hmmm, shall ve?
Last week we wondered about the incense alter which was ordered to be made a parsha apart from the other articles of the Mishkan- Sanctuary. Another parsha has past and only in
are we instructed in the copper kiyore- basin of water from which the Kohanim- priests washed their hands and feet before performing their services. As an integral part of the overall service, we would expect to have found it after the copper Alter. Why here, now?
The whole Mishkan was a model of man. Just as one is entirely for the purpose of serving G-d, so is the other. Each part of the Mishkan is a channel to draw Divine providence for those related limbs and organs of all Israel. The inner-most room of the Mishkan correlates to our mind. The front room correlates to our hearts and the outer courtyard to our extremities.
Since mans' extremities chase after his desires, in the courtyard stood the copper Alter upon which a fire burned constantly. The sanctity of the Alter's fire fought the fire of mans' passions. Yes, the expression "Fight fire with fire," we thought of it first.
The kiyore, as we said, was part of the preparation before the priests' service, be it on the copper Alter or in the Mishkan. Realizing what a service is, that a man, flesh and blood, in the dwelling place of Hashem, so to speak, is about to address our Omnipotent King via a sanctified activity, it's just an unimagineable concept. The kiyore was somehow a preparation for the Kohen for this feat. To take him out of the mundane and elevate him to the holy.
The Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur would immerse his entire body in a mikvah 5 times and wash his hands and feet by the kiyore 10 times, each time transcending to a higher spiritual realm. His state of being changed with each and every washing.
The Torah's instructions to the Kohanim regarding the kiyore is "And they'll wash, Aharon and his sons, from it, their hands and feet upon entering the Mishkan yirchatsu mayim- they'll wash in the waters that they should not die." A couple commentaries say it should say, "yirchatsu b'mayim," otherwise it literally means, "they'll wash water." They answer this is a shortened form of speech which we see used elsewhere. One comments on the repetition; "they'll wash" is said again in connection with not dying to know not washing will result in death. A previous Slonomer Rebbe says this repetition alludes to a deeper level. Waters refers to tshuva- repentance. "Wash waters" means repenting on the repentance.
A person can do tshuva for a particular sin or for their entire state of their being. Either for the action of one particular limb or for all aspects of evil which might reside in all limbs, the heart and mind. The latter is yirchatsu mayim, repenting on the repentance. The kiyore, which was necessary before every service, whether in the courtyard or the Mishkan, was for that greater tshuva which involved all limbs, heart and mind. In this sense the kiyore was unique from all other articles of service which pointed to only a particular aspect of our being. Therefore the kiyore was presented to us set aside from all the other articles of the Mishkan.
The Kovriner Rebbe wrote on washing "their hands and feet" that hands are bad character traits and feet are bad habits, matters which can't be called 'traits' yet a person has become accustomed to acting by them. When this person comes to the Mishkan, to a house of Torah, or to serve on the Alter, to perform any kind of service before Hashem, he should first, figuratively wash his hands and feet.
This idea of preparation, in some respects, is greater than the mitsvah for which one prepares. A number of mitsvos we perform have beforehand a prayer, "hinnini muchan…"- Here I am, ready, ready to perform such-and-such a mitsvah. Like the service of the Kohanim, if we stopped to realize the magnitude of the moment, that we, flesh and blood, are about to participate in some Divinely ordained and sanctified act, if this thought were truly taken to heart we would certainly become someone else performing the mitsva.
Were we stepping into prayer before G-d, and stopped to think about it, could we possibly enter without a broken heart? A Rishon, in his responsa, Ohr Zaru'ah, wrote that even a rasha- wicked person who stands before G-d, if his heart is broken he is no longer considered a rasha. Granted, he needs reparation but he is no longer branded with his ill-dubbed title.
This preparatory service of our ancestors, as mentioned in Gemorah Berachos, was heavily practiced in early Chassidic circles. They would wash their hands and feet, prepare themselves for an hour or more before praying so that when they entered into their service they would do so elevated to a higher state of being.
Also in Gemorah Berachos our Sages tell us, "The table of man is like an Alter." And just as the Kohanim had washed their hands, so too did our Sages decree that every Jew should wash his/her hands before breaking bread. Because it says in our parsha, a third time even, "And you shall wash your hands and feet, that you should not die, and it is for you a statute always, to him and his descendants for all generations." Always and for all generations means with the Mishkan/Beis Hamikdash or without.
Before we engage in spiritual matters and before we engage in physical matters, because for the Jew, everything is an opportunity to serve Hashem, we should wash our hands and feet. Sometimes only figuratively. Sometimes even literally. And as every time, our Sages did and do their best to keep every Jew connected to his/her purpose in every possible way.
We mentioned briefly, at the start, that the kiyore, like the courtyard Alter, were made from copper- nechoshes. The Noam Elimelech writes that nechoshes alludes to nachash- snake. The snake, the quintessential symbol of the enemy of Judaism, largely challenges our attempt to control our desires. Its place, therefore, is in the courtyard. Like the fire of the Alter which fights the fire of passion, the nechoshes of the Alter, it and all its copper vessels, fights the nachash. The Noam Elimelch does not say, however, this rids us of the power of the nachash. He says its not to give the nachash a portion of our Torah and mitsvos!
Since Adam ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, even G-dly aspirations have become mixed with impure goals. When a Jew sins, there is an idea that the force of impurity is coronated, but with a crown of filth. When a Jew performs a mitsva, but with inappropriate intentions, then the force of impurity receives a crown of gold. This is another angle to an idea we mentioned recently. That when a Jew sins, and knows he's sinning, he can come to do tshuva. But when he thinks he's doing a mitsvah, how will he come to do tshuva? For that level of success the nachash earns a crown of gold.
In the days of the Mishkan and Temple we had the kiyore. With it the Kohanim would wash their hands and feet. Not only that, they would "yirchatsu mayim"- wash water, repent on top of their repenting. On behalf of all Israel the kiyore nechoshes would run through their minds, hearts and actions and rid themselves of any elements of evil within so that their service might be entirely and purely with the proper intentions, on behalf of the Jew they're representing.
Then the Torah tells us this is a chok olam, l'dorosam- a statute forever, for all generations. It applies even in our day. We're not expected to understand it. How could we possibly grasp it? But we are given the ability to do it. To wash or hands and feet by stopping and giving thought to what we are about to do.
Halacha tells us to literally wash before we pray and before breaking bread, our two archetypal actions of spiritual and physical sustenance. Those should be a reminder for all other matters we involve ourselves in throughout the day. May they all be for fulfilling G-d's will, with only good intentions, as an elevation for all Israel.
In this merit may we soon see the rebuilding of G-d's house and all Israel, a holy nation, installed as a Nation of Priests, servicing all the world for G-d's glory and with only good intentions.
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