> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > Between the Lines

The Cleansing Water

Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35 )

by Rabbi Abba Wagensberg

Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!

This week's parsha discusses the copper basin that the Kohanim used to wash their hands and feet before performing the daily Temple service. We might wonder why the basin is first introduced in this parsha, when last week's parsha discussed all of the other vessels and utensils used in the Temple. Why is the basin mentioned separately?

One of the themes of this parsha is that "God's salvation comes in the blink of an eye" (based on Midrash - Yalkut Shemoni, Netzavim #960). This lesson is seen in the primary story of the parsha, the Golden Calf. After this incident, God is so angry at the Jewish people that He actually says, "I will annihilate them" (Exodus 32:10). Yet, a mere four verses later, the Torah tells us, "God was appeased regarding the evil He said He would do to His nation" (Exodus 32:14). Even when the Jewish people participated in blatant idolatry, God was willing to spare them from destruction!

We see from this extreme example that, no matter how far we've fallen or how impure we feel we've become, there is always a second chance. God can save people at a moment's notice. Thus, we have no reason ever to despair or be distraught, since salvation is right around the corner.

The two components of the copper basin suggest this lesson as well. The inside of the basin contains water. The Slonimer Rebbe compares water to teshuva, based on the verse, "I will sprinkle upon them purifying waters" (Ezekiel 36:25). Water is often associated with purity, and the ability to be cleansed from past mistakes.

The Noam Elimelech discusses the second element of the basin: the copper exterior (Exodus 30:18). The Hebrew word for copper, nechoshet, shares a linguistic root with the word nachash, meaning "snake." The snake is often compared to the yetzer hara (inclination toward negativity), since the snake in the Garden of Eden was the original embodiment of evil.

These two contrasting elements of the basin suggest an important message. A person approaching the basin first touches the copper (nechoshet), recalling impurity and evil. But right behind that copper wall is a source of clean, purifying water, ready to wash away past mistakes! In other words, even if a person has been bitten (nashach) by the nachash (yetzer hara) and has succumbed to the temptations of negativity, nevertheless, "God's salvation comes in the blink of an eye."

Perhaps this is one reason that the basin is discussed separately from all the other Temple vessels. This parsha, which discusses God's instantaneous salvation of the Jewish people after the Golden Calf, is a fitting place to mention the basin. Its two components, water and copper, show us that the source of purity and healing can cleanse us from darkness at a moment's notice.

May we all be blessed with awareness of this lesson, so that even if we have weakened, we do not allow ourselves to slip into despair or depression, but instead remember that salvation can come at the blink of an eye. In this merit, may we soon deserve to see the building of the Temple and the reinstitution of the basin, to cleanse and lift us to the highest of levels.

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