Parshas Ki Sisa: The Importance of Preparation
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Ki Sisa, G-d continues to instruct Moshe regarding the construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. In this week’s parsha we learn of the Kiyyor, the copper laver that stood outside of the Mishkan proper, in the courtyard. The purpose of the Kiyyor was for washing.
And G-d spoke to Moshe saying: וְעָשִׂיתָ כִּיּוֹר נְחֹשֶׁת, וְכַנּוֹ נְחֹשֶׁת--לְרָחְצָה; וְנָתַתָּ אֹתוֹ, בֵּין-אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וּבֵין הַמִּזְבֵּחַ, וְנָתַתָּ שָׁמָּה מָיִם, and you shall make a copper laver and its pedestal of copper, for washing; place it between the Tent of Meeting and the Altar, and put water there; וְרָחֲצוּ אַהֲרֹן וּבָנָיו מִמֶּנּוּ אֶת-יְדֵיהֶם, וְאֶת-רַגְלֵיהֶם, and Aharon and his sons shall wash from it their hands and their feet; When they come to the Tent of Meeting, they shall wash with water that they not die… (Shemos 30:17-20).
Rashi (to v.20) teaches that the washing of the hands and the feet of the kohanim prior to conducting the priestly service was so fundamental that failure to do so rendered the kohen chayav misah - liable for death.
What was it about the kiyyor - the laver constructed from the copper mirrors of the women (Shemos 38:8 with Rashi) - that was so fundamental to the priestly service? Furthermore, what lesson does it contain for us today, in the absence of the Mishkan and Beis Ha’Mikdash?
Rabbi Shalom Rosner writes, “Interestingly, the placement of the Kiyyor is not where we would expect. It was placed out of the way of the kohanim, far from where they entered the Mishkan. Additionally, the Torah prescribes the death penalty for failing to wash before engaging in the avoda. What is the importance of their washing their hands and feet even if they know they were clean?”
Rabbi Rosner explains “that this washing was not about becoming pure, because even kohanim who were completely pure had to wash” with water from the kiyyor prior to conducting the priestly service. Rather, there is a deeper message. Although we are involved in a life of constant asi’at ha’mitzvot and striving to perform good deeds to the best of our abilities, we often forget that the purpose of all that we do is not just about getting things done and performing mitzvot by rote. Rather, we need to focus and realize what we are about to do, and that is what sanctifying oneself is about.
If we would take a few moments to prepare for the mitzvah before performing the mitzvah, and to prepare for the act of kindness before carrying it out, so many of our daily activities would be so much more meaningful. “If we take a moment, so to speak, to wash our hands and feet first, to sanctify ourselves before performing a mitzvah, our mitzvot would have so much more depth. We have to make sure our external actions and our internal thoughts are aligned” (Shalom Rav, p.445-446).
It is not enough for us to perform the actions of the mitzvos as commanded by G-d. We must be thoughtful in their performance, pay attention to the actions we are carrying out, and put our minds, thoughts and hearts into all that we do. And one way to achieve this goal is through preparation for the mitzvah.
The kiyyor, used for washing prior to the priestly service, teaches us this fundamental lesson. It is not enough to rush into our avodas Hashem; we must be ever-mindful of before Whom we stand and Whom we serve. Taking the (proverbial) time to “wash our hands and feet” reminds us to prepare to serve G-d and fellow man.
In regard to preparation for the mitzvah of prayer, the Sages teach: חֲסִידִים הָרִאשׁוֹנִים הָיוּ שׁוֹהִין שָׁעָה אַחַת, וּמִתְפַּלְּלִין, כְּדֵי שֶׁיְּכַוְּונוּ לִבָּם לַאֲבִיהֶם שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם - The early generations of pious men would wait one hour, in order to reach the solemn frame of mind appropriate for prayer, and then pray, so that they would focus their hearts toward their Father in Heaven (Mishnah, Brachos 30b).
In fact, preparation in avodas Hashem is so important, that it is an integral part of our Shabbos observance.
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, וְהָיָה בַּיּוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי, וְהֵכִינוּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר-יָבִיאוּ, “And it shall be on the sixth day that when they prepare what they will bring (Shemos 16:5)… Shabbos is related to man’s preparation during the week. This preparation solidifies its holiness. The essence of Shabbos is based on these verses. It is a day for which we must prepare.
“The prohibition of muktzeh is centered on the need for preparation. Among the prohibitions of muktzeh is food that was not prepared prior to Shabbos. One does not merit, nor is one worthy of, celebrating Shabbos unless one prepares for it. Rambam states: It is a mitzvah to wash one’s face, hands and feet in hot water on erev Shabbos due to the honor of Shabbos. He wraps himself in a tallis and sits with his head covered, anxiously awaiting the reception of Shabbos as if he were going to greet a king (Hilchos Shabbos 30:2). Proper preparation is a necessary condition for any encounter with holiness” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Shemos, p.129-131).
And so, of all the keilim (implements) of the Mishkan the copper kiyyor reminds us not only to wash before serving G-d, but to take the time to prepare to serve G-d!
Rabbi Rosner’s conclusion is most apt. “Perhaps this is why the kiyyor was built from mirrors. Every time the kohanim went to wash themselves, they saw their reflection, a reminder to look inside themselves to make sure they were focused on the avoda they were about to perform” (Shalom Rav, p.446).”
May all our mitzvos be imbued with the holiness of both preparation and action, as we lead meaningful lives of Divine service.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום.