A Wash Basin?
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
After a lengthy discussion about the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the clothing required by the priests, the Torah introduces us to a new vessel—the kiyor (a special wash basin with faucets). The Kohanim (Tabernacle Priests) were instructed to wash their hands and their feet in the kiyor every day before engaging in temple service. The Torah emphasizes the importance of this Mitzvah by stating: “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…” Why is this Mitzvah so important and why is this command mentioned so late in the discussion of the Mishkan?
Seforno explains that the washing of the hands and feet was not part of the sanctification of the Mishkan. Rather, it was a sanctification ritual of Kohanim preparing for temple service. Onkelos, therefore, renders the Hebrew word rachatz (meaning to wash) as kiddush (meaning to sanctify). Ramban understands that the process of washing the hands and the feet was to sanctify the book ends of the body, thereby, sanctifying the entire body to serve God.
In this Mitzvah, our Rabbis saw an eternal message for every individual. While the Kohanim are the representatives of the nation in the service of God, every individual is to serve God and view themselves as an emissary in this world to serve God. Therefore, our Rabbis enacted that before prayer each morning, we wash our hands, and should have the aforementioned message at the forefront of our minds when doing so.
This Mitzvah teaches us that it is not simply prayer in our synagogues that is important, but the physical and spiritual preparation for prayer that is equally critical. Although we often rush in and out fulfilling our spiritual obligations, we must realize that this is not the way things should ideally be done. A beautiful sanctuary is hollow without individuals preparing and sanctifying themselves for their communion with Hashem.
We will soon have a beautifully redecorated sanctuary. Let us ensure that we prepare and sanctify ourselves to serve God within it!