Rinse Well Before Serving – Parashat Ki Tisa

February 25, 2018 at 3:46 AM , , ,

“…Aharon and his sons shall wash their hands and feet from it…” – Shemot 30:19

וְרָחֲצוּ אַהֲרֹן וּבָנָיו מִמֶּנּוּ אֶת יְדֵיהֶם וְאֶת רַגְלֵיהֶם – שמות ל, יט

Before beginning their daily service, the kohanim serving in the Mishkan would wash their hands and feet. Emulating the kohanim, we, too, wash our hands every morning upon awakening to sanctify ourselves for a new day in the service of G-d (see Rashba, cited in Beis Yosef – Orach Chaim 4).

According to the Rambam (Hilchos Tefilah 4:3), however, before the morning prayers one should wash not only his hands (and feet), but also his face. Hence, our daily prayers, a mere replacement for the sacrifices in the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash, require even more preparation than the daily service in the Mishkan! This additional requirement reflects the unique challenges faced by the Jew in the times of exile, in marked contrast to the Jews of Temple times.

Whereas hands and feet are our vehicles for physical movement, the face is home to our higher faculties and senses, such as sight, hearing and speech. The face therefore represents the aspects of life that occupy our thoughts and feelings, i.e., areas we engage in more than just technically.

Parashat Ki Tisa

The Jewish people in the times of the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash, and particularly the Kohanim, were in an ideal spiritual state; their hearts and minds – represented by the face – were occupied exclusively with holy pursuits. Their inevitable engagement with the material world (in order to sustain themselves physically) was merely pragmatic. Therefore, the Kohanim needed only to wash their “hands and feet” and they were ready to serve.

In the times of exile, however, the mandatory preparations for prayer (according to the Rambam) must include even washing one’s face. For under the stresses and confusion of exile, it is not uncommon for a Jew’s inner thoughts and feelings to be preoccupied with material concerns. Therefore, to ready ourselves for focused prayer, we must cleanse even our “faces” before we can begin.

—Likkutei Sichos vol. 31, pp. 189


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