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G-d spoke to Moses, saying: "You shall make a copper laver… for washing. You shall place it between the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and put water in it". (30:17-19)
The instruction to construct the copper laver occurs as almost a postscript. It is the last substantial artifact described for the Tabernacle, and the only one that gets its first mention as late as in this Parasha. It does not parallel the details of the actual construction recounted in the next Parasha. There, it placed in its logical order - together with the other items - the ark, table, candelabrum, inner altar, and outer altar.
In addition, the laver is unusual as it is the only object whose dimensions are not given. No circumference, height, or mention of whether it had taps, and if so - how many. And finally it is the only item to be introduced with: "G-d said to Moses saying", rather than the conventional "You shall make…" What special characteristics had the laver to merit exclusive treatment?
In response, the Sforno distinguishes the laver from the other items in the sanctuary in the following way. The other parts and vessels were integral parts of the Tabernacle. They had to be constructed to the precise dimensions, to enable the Divine Presence to rest on and within the Tabernacle: "I will rest My Presence among the Children of Israel and I shall be their G-d" (29:45).
In contrast, the laver was for the service of the priestly officials only. It supplied water so that the priests could carry out their duties in an appropriate state of cleanliness. The actual size and design was left open to what would best suit the priests, in terms of aesthetics and efficiency.
The principle that emerges is a very important one in Jewish practice today. It is striking the ideal balance between the framework of the Halacha on one hand, and creativity on the other. The other vessels of the Tabernacle with their specified characteristics and measurements represent Halacha. Individual and communal creativity are symbolized by the laver.
For there are certain things that are ordained in Halacha, for example the four parashiot of the tefillin, the precise nature of the arbaa minim on Sukkot, and what qualifies for matzot on Pesach. But there are other things that are open for individuals and communities to fit in to their tastes and cultures. For example, the Rabbis instituted three meals on Shabbat, but did not specify what should be on the menu. They also instituted specific berachot before and after the reading of the Shema at Shacharit and Aravit, but the precise text of those accompanying prayers varies from eida (community) to eida; from nusach (precise, set liturgy) to nusach. And indeed, within the framework of the Amida prayer, particularly in Shema Koleinu, one is actually encouraged to insert private prayers of one's own…
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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