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לימוד תורה

The Basin and the means: they either distance or bring closer to the target

The Parasha in our everyday life – Ki Tisa’h 5782

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - Rosh Yeshivat Hesder 'Meir Harel' Modi'in

Dedicated in memory of my mother, my teacher, Mrs. Nehama bat Meir, Shenvald, who passed away 12 Adar 5777.

The moral relationship between the goal and the means to reach it, is a central issue in our lives. Many times, we find ourselves asking: What is the correct way to achieve the goals that are important to us, and what means are morally right or wrong to use. One of the moral dilemmas we face is how much does the goal, important and vital as it may be, 'Justifies the means'? Is it permissible to use means that are not completely ‘kosher’ to achieve an important goal?

The issue has recently arisen in the public discourse in full force in the context of the ‘way’ in which a coveted legal role has been achieved. And it is somewhat morally forgiving that this is accepted by part of the public.

In Halacha, too, we find a broad reference to this issue, a "positive Mitzvah that follows/caused by a transgression- Mitzvah Haba’a Beavera" such as in the observance of the Mitzvah of Lulav when it was stolen (Sukkah 30a), or on Passover one cannot fulfill one’s obligation with a robbed Matzah, מַצָּה גְזוּלָה אֵינוֹ יוֹצֵא בָהּ יְדֵי חוֹבָתוֹ בַפֶּסַח (Jerusalem Talmud Shabbat 13:3, Challah 1:5) or in Yirmiyahu עֹ֥שֶׂה עֹ֖שֶׁר וְלֹ֣א בְמִשְׁפָּ֑ט “So is one who amasses wealth by unjust means" (17:11).

The relationship and tension between the goal and the means is also a central issue in the public arena, where people and public bodies work to reach their goals. Thank G-d there are many who are careful to use only ‘kosher’ means, but in recent years there are more and more people who deliberately use ‘non-kosher’ means: 'the end justifies the means'. They use 'spins' and manipulations, false promises and public deception. Unfortunately, there is kind of an acceptance of the situation. It is supposedly an inevitable thing, even though it causes a serious setback in confidence. Recently the alleged use of illegitimate tools by law enforcement agencies was exposed. Either to incriminate people, or to track down ordinary citizens.

There is another area that, unlike the first one, is not related to morals, but to the degree of the means’ effectiveness to achieve the goal. That is, individuals and entities that seek to advance their goals, choose to use precisely the means that, although legitimate, are incapable of achieving the goal, on the contrary, they distance themselves from it. Bodies that carry a certain public struggle, and seek public awareness or even make the public identify with it and join their struggle, however the measures they take do the opposite, they infuriate the public and alienate it. A kind of 'blindness' that is not always caused by stupidity but by the fact that they are trapped in a wrong conceptual perception, or in their own agenda. We have seen this recently in several issues that have agitated the national religious public.

In our Parasha we will read about the Basin:

וְעָשִׂ֜יתָ כִּיּ֥וֹר נְחֹ֛שֶׁת וְכַנּ֥וֹ נְחֹ֖שֶׁת לְרָחְצָ֑ה וְנָתַתָּ֣ אֹת֗וֹ בֵּֽין־אֹ֤הֶל מוֹעֵד֙ וּבֵ֣ין הַמִּזְבֵּ֔חַ וְנָתַתָּ֥ שָׁ֖מָּה מָֽיִם׃ וְרָחֲצ֛וּ אַהֲרֹ֥ן וּבָנָ֖יו מִמֶּ֑נּוּ אֶת־יְדֵיהֶ֖ם וְאֶת־רַגְלֵיהֶֽם׃ בְּבֹאָ֞ם אֶל־אֹ֧הֶל מוֹעֵ֛ד יִרְחֲצוּ־מַ֖יִם וְלֹ֣א יָמֻ֑תוּ א֣וֹ בְגִשְׁתָּ֤ם אֶל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֙חַ֙ לְשָׁרֵ֔ת לְהַקְטִ֥יר אִשֶּׁ֖ה לַֽה'׃

“Make a laver of copper and a stand of copper for it, for washing; and place it between the Tent of Meeting and the altar. Put water in it, and let Aaron and his sons wash their hands and feet [in water drawn] from it. When they enter the Tent of Meeting they shall wash with water, that they may not die; or when they approach the altar to serve, to turn into smoke an offering by fire to Hashem” (Shmot 30:18-20)

We read this Parasha every morning as part of the 'Korbanot'. From the laver the priests would wash and sanctify their hands and feet when they came to the Tabernacle to perform the sacred work. The laver was located in the courtyard of the Tabernacle, but it was not located near the entrance to the courtyard, in front of the altar, but between the altar and the entrance to the Tabernacle (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch ibid). Hence the sanctification of hands and feet is not only about means and preparation but a kind of sacred work.

וְכֹהֵן שֶׁעָבַד וְלֹא קִדֵּשׁ יָדָיו וְרַגְלָיו שַׁחֲרִית חַיָּב מִיתָה בִּידֵי שָׁמַיִם שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שמות ל כ) "יִרְחֲצוּ מַיִם וְלֹא יָמֻתוּ". וַעֲבוֹדָתוֹ פְּסוּלָה בֵּין כֹּהֵן גָּדוֹל בֵּין כֹּהֵן הֶדְיוֹט:

"And the priest who served in the morning without sanctifying his hands and legs is liable for death by Heaven, as it says (Exodus 30:20) "They shall wash with water and shall not die." And his service is invalid, whether he is the High Priest or a regular priest" (Rambam Mishneh Torah- Admission into the Sanctuary 5:1)

And even if he 'got distracted' from the sanctification of his hands and feet he must return and sanctify them (Ibid. Halacha 3). The washing of hands was intended for the sake of cleanliness and respect worthy of the sacred work (Ramban ibid).

But it also has another meaning: man does and acts in the world with one tool: His hands! He goes to the places where he wants to act and do with a different tool: his feet.

Hashem has given man hands and feet so he can materialize his desires and thoughts, in the world. The obligation to sanctify the hands and feet in the Temple is the mere obligation to sanctify the means by which we act and carry out our deeds in the world, thus allowing sanctity to be expressed in the world:

מאותו הכיור המקודש, קדושת אהל מועד, מצד טהרת הרוח, מכון השכל, וקדושת המזבח, מצד טהרת הנפש מכון הרצון, באה הרחיצה המתאימה להידים, הפועלות את הפעולות, ע"פ הדרכת השכל, והרגלים, כלי התנועה, הבאה מדחיפת הרצון.

From the same sacred basin, the sanctity of the Tabernacle, on the part of the purity of the spirit, on the mind side, and the sanctity of the altar, on the willingness for purity of the soul, comes the appropriate washing for the hands, which perform the actions, according to the guidance of the mind, and the feet, the means of movement, following the impulse of the will. (Olat Reiyah Korbanot Part 1)

Only through the sacred tools can we properly execute the sacred thoughts. Achieving a goal with defective tools impairs and spoils the appearance of the goal in the world.

And perhaps it can be said that in respect to the first scope, achieving the goal by non-kosher means comes the sanctification of the hands and tools, and in respect to the second scope, the use of the wrong means for the purpose, comes sanctifying the feet that are leading us on the way to the goal.

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