The Mirror

Before the priests entered the Temple, they ceremoniously washed their hands at a special copper laver, symbolically ridding themselves of any trace of negativity before approaching G‑d.1 This begs the question: Isn’t this a contradiction in terms? Why wash away ego and selfishness at a shiny copper sink in which the priests could see their own reflections?

Reversal

The copper laver was effectively a giant mirror, famously fashioned from the mirrors of the Jewish women. And what is the function of a mirror? When a ray of light hits a mirror, it bounces off the polished surface and reverses its course.

When peering into a mirror, you see not only yourself, but everything behind you. Rather than looking forward, you now reverse course. You think about your origin, your Creator and the purpose for which your soul was dispatched to earth.

We, too, wash our hands before prayer. Rather than thinking only about our needs, interests and concerns, we are about to focus on G‑d. We will pour our hearts into our prayers and accept G‑d’s invitation to become His beloved. So we pause for a moment to pivot from self-focus to G‑d-focus.

In the Temple, where the divine presence was intimate and intense, that pivot had to be executed flawlessly, which is why the mirror was used as a visual aid.

From the Bottom Up

Judaism, essentially, is like a mirror which reflects the needs of G‑d.

In every religion but Judaism, the objective is personal spiritual fulfillment or sublimation. Christianity offers salvation, Islam offers sublimation and Buddhism offers serenity. Judaism offers the opportunity to serve G‑d.

Judaism does not deny that we receive all of the above and more. But rather than focusing on the idea that G‑d above will grant us fulfillment, we focus on how we can serve G‑d from down here on this earth. When we look into the mirror of Judaism, we see the light of G‑d reflected. We see G‑d’s needs and wants, not our own.

How can we say that a perfect G‑d has needs? The answer is that a perfect G‑d made an imperfect world. And He wanted it made perfect by the people of this world. This is the key point. G‑d could have made it perfect and can make it perfect at any time, but that isn’t what He wants. He wants it to come from us.

This is G‑d’s “need,” His essential desire. That we use our free choice to conquer the negativity and perfect this world with our mitzvahs. One might say, “I don’t want to keep Shabbat. It doesn’t do anything for me.” The answer is, keeping Shabbat is not meant to do anything for you (and if it does, it is a mere bonus). It is meant to do something for G‑d.

When the priests approached the Temple, they stopped to wash their hands, rinse off their self-absorption and peer into the mirror to reflect on serving G‑d in the way that only we can—from the bottom up.

Reward

But that is not to say that a life of Torah and mitzvahs is not rewarding. On the contrary, it is most rewarding. Because we are needed—by the Creator of heaven and earth! His light is endless, His capacity is omnipotent, His radiance is magnificent, His beauty is exquisite, His grandeur defies definition—and yet He needs us. We are important to Him. We matter to Him. We are significant on the highest of levels, and there can be nothing more rewarding than that. The reward for a mitzvah is truly the mitzvah itself2 —the opportunity to give to G‑d.3