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Home » Tzav

Tzav: From the Bottom Up

Submitted by on March 17, 2013 – 6:36 amNo Comment | 3,520 views

The Mirror

Before the priests entered the Temple they performed ablutions at the Laver.[1] We too perform ablutions before prayer though it is not at a special laver; it is at the regular sink. The idea behind washing our hands is to wash away the negative emotions that cloud our minds and distract us during prayer. Our day can be stressful and before turning to G-d we pause to wash our hands physically and our minds and hearts of all traces of anger, jealousy, ego or selfishness. We approach G-d in purity.

This raises an important question. Why was the Laver in the Temple constructed of shiny copper on which the priests could see their own reflection?[2] If the idea behind the ablutions was to rinse away selfishness and self absorbed emotional responses, why did the priests peer into a mirror at that time?


To answer this question let us consider a mirror. A mirror is made of glass through which light is meant to pass, but this glass is layered with silver, which arrests the flow of light. When the ray of light hits the mirror, it bounces off the glass, reverses direction and travels backwards. The message of the mirror is not so much about your own reflection, but the reversal of the light’s course.

When peering into a mirror, you see not only yourself, but everything behind you. from the bottom up - innerstreamRather than looking forward, continuing on your previous path,, you now have to reverse course and look behind you. Think about your origin, your creator and the purpose for which your soul was dispatched to earth.

Before prayer we stop to wash our hands and reverse course. Rather than thinking about our needs, our interests and our concerns, we are going to focus on G-d. We will pour our heart out in prayer and accept G-d’s invitation to be his beloved. G-d wants to love me and all He asks is that I love Him back. It is inspiring to realize that G-d wants to initiate a relationship. In effect, G-d is saying hello and all day long we were too busy to answer. In prayer we stop to respond and say hello back to G-d. We pause for a moment to execute the pivot, from self focus to G-d focus.

In prayer the pivot is executed without visual aid. In the temple, where the Divine presence was intimate and intense, the pivot had to be executed flawlessly, which is why the mirror was used as a visual aid.

From the Bottom Up

Still we need to ask the question. What is the purpose of focusing on G-d, is it because it is spiritually rewarding to us or because it is important and meaningful to G-d? We know why we spend time providing for our own needs and indulging our own interests, but why do we spend time for G-d? Does a perfect G-d need us in any way shape or form? If He is perfect, what can we possibly contribute?

In truth, prayer, Torah study and a pious life of Mitzvah is spiritually rewarding. In the afterlife, we will reap reward for our efforts on earth. The holier we are on earth the richer and more rewarding is our soul’s experience in heaven. But this is not the primary reason to serve G-d. If it were it would be a noble, but still selfish pursuit. The mirror image summons us to abandon all traces of selfishness and focus exclusively on G-d.

In every religion, but for Judaism, the objective is self improvement or sublimation. The religious doctrine fills life with meaning and offers spiritual fulfillment. Christianity offers salvation, Islam offers sublimation and Buddhism offers inner joy and serenity. Judaism offers the opportunity to serve G-d.

Judaism does not deny that we receive all of the above, but the focus is not so much for G-dliness to descend from above and make our life beautiful. Rather the focus is on looking up from below and serving G-d. Judaism acts like a mirror held over the ground rather than a magnifying glass. The magnifier magnifies objects struck by the light that flows from above. The mirror enables us to look from the bottom up and see the light as it is above.from the bottom up - innerstream What does this mean?

In simple terms it means that we do not serve G-d to gain fulfillment, we serve G-d because G-d has needs that only we can fulfill. How can we say that a perfect G-d has needs? The answer is that a perfect G-d made an imperfect world perfectly. He made this world precisely as He wanted it, imperfectly. And He wanted it made perfect by the creatures of this world. This is the key point. G-d could have made it perfect and can make it perfect at any time, but that isn’t what He wants. He chose to have this imperfect world made perfect from the bottom up. By the people of the world, which means us.

This is one thing G-d cannot do Himself. He cannot have a world made perfect by us unless we make it so. This is not about working to make our life perfectly holy, it is about serving G-d’s needs. One might say, I can’t keep Shabbat, it doesn’t do anything for me and I have other needs. The answer is, keeping Shabbat is not meant to do anything for you (and if it does it is a mere bonus) it is meant to do something for G-d and it is doing much for G-d so keep up the good work.

The mirror allows us to look back at what G-d needs from us, rather than at what G-d can do for us. When the priests approached the Temple they stopped to wash their hands, rinse off distracting thoughts, shake off self absorption and peer into the mirror to reflect on serving G-d in the ways that only we can serve. From the Bottom up – giving G-d what He cannot give Himself.


But that is not to say that this is not rewarding. On the contrary it is most rewarding. This reward doesn’t come from collecting, but from giving. There is nothing more rewarding than to know that we can provide for someone, who depends on us and looks to us with hope. To know that we matter to someone else is most rewarding. To know that we matter to thousands is even more rewarding. To know that we matter to the entire universe is exhilarating.

Can you imagine how gratifying it is to know that we matter to the creator of heaven and earth and that what we do makes a difference to an infinite G-d? His light is endless, His capacity is omnipotent, His radiance is magnificent, His beauty is exquisite, His knowledge and moral grandeur defy definition and yet He needs us and looks to us for something only we can provide. We are important to Him. We matter to Him. We are significant on the highest of level and there can be nothing more rewarding than that. The reward for a Mitzvah is truly the Mitzvah itself[3] – the opportunity to provide for G-d.[4]

[1] Exodus 40: 31.

[2] Exodus 37: 8.

[3] Ethics of our father 4:2.

[4] This essay is based on a discourse delivered by the Lubavitche Rebbe OBM on the Shabbat of Vayakhel Pkudie, 5719.

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