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Saturday, August 23, 2014

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Holy mascara!

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Rabbi David Rosenthal

Some things just don’t seem to go together. Cream cheese and peanut butter; ice cream and codfish; bananas and tomato sauce. So in this week’s parashah, I was a little taken aback when I read about the materials used to build the Holy Tabernacle.

When I think “cosmetics,” I don’t usually think “great gift for a shul.”

Yet this is the image that greets us in the parashah this week. The women of the Jewish nation gathered together and donated their makeup mirrors for the construction of the Tabernacle. At first, Moses was reluctant to accept such seemingly mundane, and even materialistic, items. How could such objects of desire be used for such a holy enterprise?

Yet HaShem reprimanded Moses. “These are holy mirrors.”

Why were they holy, you may ask?

At the time of the Egyptian enslavement of the Jewish people, one of the key strategies employed by the Egyptian task masters was to work the men so strenuously that at the end of the day, when they came home to their wives, the men would simply not have the energy or desire for procreation, leaving the Jewish people with no future offspring.

Seeing what was going on, the Jewish women gathered together to combat the situation. They proceeded to put on makeup and the like in order to pique the interest of their husbands. It was due to their efforts that at the end of their time in Egypt, the Jewish People still had significant numbers to their population.

Aside from taking a makeup course, what’s the message for us today?

At first glance, there seems to be things that are inherently good and things that are inherently bad. A Torah scroll is good. Marijuana is bad.

However, upon reflection, one realizes that the value of an object is determined solely by how we use it. In Judaism, unlike other religions, there is no such thing as categorically good or evil. Everything has the ability to either be uplifted or debased. Food can be used for the service of HaShem, or it can be used for the degradation of our lesser halves. Money can be used to help the needy or to gamble on a horse race. In fact, the greater the potential for corruption, the greater the ability for growth. That is why Judaism views the bedroom as the Holy of Holies, the area with the highest possible potential, for it there lies the greatest room for deprivation and misdirection.

Our mission as Jews is to take the world and all its components and use them in the highest possible way by directing them in meaningful pursuits. There’s no such thing as neutral when it comes to this world. Either something is being used as a means to grow and better ourselves and the world, or it’s not.

To bring it down to a more practical level, start paying attention to your own motivations. Ask yourself why you do what you do. The Jewish women in Egypt put on makeup in order to build the Jewish nation. What’s our agenda? Where are we headed?

Rabbi David Rosenthal is director of outreach and development for Thornhill Woods Shul in Thornhill, Ont.

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