Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch
Rabbi Shimshon Rafael HirschCourtesy

In his commentary to Shemos 38:8 – which tells us that the kiyor was made from “the mirrors of the assembled women” – Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch notes the obvious: “Mirrors are articles that lay stress on the physical bodily appearance of people.” If they are, though, why was the kiyor in the Mishkan fashioned from them? Aren’t reminders of the human body inappropriate in the Mishkan? Aren’t they especially inappropriate around the kiyor, whose waters prepared the kohanim for their daily sacred service?

Rav Hirsch answers – in accordance with his Torah im Derech Eretz worldview – that the kiyor’s composition teaches us that the “physical sensual side of human beings is not merely not excluded from the sphere that is to be sanctified by the Mikdash, but that it is the first and most essential object of this sanctification.” Indeed, “at rock bottom...it is just this side of human nature that is necessary to come under the influence of the Mikdash if the sanctification of life which is aimed at is to be achieved.”

In fact, this “profound moral idea” is so significant that the kiyor may have even been constructed with unaltered mirrors despite the general rule that “klei hedyot should not be used for meleches gavo’a in an unchanged form,” writes Rav Hirsch.

For the highest worship of G-d calls for sanctifying the physical, not shunning or compartmentalizing it.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) – head of the Jewish community in Frankfurt, Germany for over 35 years – was a prolific writer whose ideas, passion, and brilliance helped save German Jewry from the onslaught of modernity.

Elliot Resnick, PhD, is the host of “The Elliot Resnick Show” and the editor of an upcoming work on etymological explanations in Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash.