The origins of the copper basin

In Parshat Pekudei, we read that the copper which was donated to the Mishkan (Tabernacle) amounted to seventy talents and 2,400 shekels. This copper was used for the sockets for the door of Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting), the copper alter and its copper grating.

Shmot 39:33-42 describes the completion of the Mishkan and its inventory. Verse 39 lists “the copper altar and its copper grate, along with its poles and all its vessels, the basin (kiyor) and its base.”

Abravanel points out that the basin and base were not made from the regular copper that was donated as a free offering by B’nai Yisrael. Rather, they were made from the copper mirrors which were donated by the women. We see this in Parshat Vayakhel, Shmot 38:8, “He made the basin out of copper and its base out of copper, from the ‘mar’ot ha’tzovot’, mirrors of the women who had gathered at the entrance of Ohel Moed.

Ibn Ezra explains that it is customary for every woman to make up her face in the morning and look in a bronze or glass mirror in order to adjust her hairstyle and ornaments…But there were pious women who overcame this worldly temptation and freely gave away their mirrors because they found no more need to beautify themselves but instead came daily to the door of Ohel Moed to pray and hear religious discourses and study the mitzvot. The text states “Who crowded at the door of Ohel Moed” because there were many of them.

This reminds me of many women in Jerusalem who attend Torah study classes on a regular basis. Instead of spending their days in the beauty salons, they crowd the Batei Midrash and auditoriums to study Torah during their free time.

This past week, I had the opportunity to visit Machon HaMikdash, the Temple Institute in Jerusalem where the vessels of the Beit HaMikdash have been recreated based on the information that we have from the Torah. I was surprised to see a very large basin, larger than I would have expected. I inquired and was told that a very generous family donated it.

Nechama Leibowitz points out that there were no measurements listed for the basin the way that there were measurements listed for all of the other objects in the Mishkan and she leaves us with the question of why.

The answer may be that God was willing to accept as many mirrors as the women were willing to contribute with no required minimum or maximum amount. The women proved their generosity and therefore a large basin was able to be built.

Today, on International Women’s Day, and every day, may we have the generosity and thirst for Torah that the women demonstrated in the desert.