The first ever crowd-funding campaign has succeeded, allowing each member of the Jewish community to have a part in the construction of holy space on earth. But there are donations, and then there are donations.
The most precious donation of all, according to the Midrash, is mentioned in chapter 38. It’s not the expensive stones of the princes, or the pure gold that formed the holiest vessels, or even the half-shekel with its message of equality before God.
“The daughters of Israel had mirrors that they would look at when they put on their jewelry, and even these they did not hesitate to bring as a donation to the Mishkan. And Moshe was disgusted by them, because they are made for the evil inclination. God said to him: These are the most precious to me of all, for through them the women brought about many hosts of children in Egypt.” (Rashi adapting Midrash Tanchuma)
Vanity mirrors? That’s what forms the vessel which purifies the priests before their service, and holds the water which erases God’s name in the Sotah ceremony?
This Midrash connects us to an entire Midrashic world of alternative narrative, the untold story of redemption in which it is not God, or Moshe or Aharon who are the main catalysts of redemption, but the ‘righteous women’. Like little Miriam who argues with her father to lift the ban he had placed on having children, and the Jewish women who awaken their exhausted husband’s desire “under the apple tree”, defying slavery and oppression with their relentless dedication to life’s continuity.
It may be a little obscene, Moshe, but it is only this obscene hope that ensured that there was a Jewish people to redeem. This obscene hope is the prerequisite to divine service. This obscene hope, the belief that no matter how dark the day, loving life will ultimately prevail, preserved our dreams of Zion until Herzl came along and taught us that if we will it, it is no dream. Sixty seven and three thousand or so years later, this obscene hope still forms the vessel that holds our belief in peace as an ultimate value.