At the beginning of the Torah portion of Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20), the Torah again described the materials that were collected for use in creating the Tabernacle (Exodus 35:4-9). In the case of the laver, the Torah even describes the source of the material, specifying that the copper came from the mirrors of the women (Exodus 38:8). The women who refused to give their gold jewelry for the creation of the Golden Calf ran to give their mirrors for the Tabernacle.
According to Midrash, Moses initially refused the mirrors as they are a tool for narcissism and the pursuit of physical beauty. God, however, disagreed, teaching Moses that not only should the mirrors be accepted, but indeed they were more precious than all the other gifts. “Accept these gifts immediately, for they are the dearest to me of all things,” God said. “With these mirrors, the women established legions in Egypt.”
The Israel Bible explains what the Midrash meant:
The women of the nation donate their mirrors to provide copper for the laver. The medieval commentator Rashi teaches that in Egypt, the women would use these mirrors to make themselves beautiful, in order to enliven the spirits of their husbands upon returning from the day’s slave labor. These righteous women never lost faith in Hashem and in His promised redemption, and ensured the continuity of the Jewish people with these same mirrors. It is due to the merit of the righteous women in the generation of the exodus that their mirrors are used to construct a vessel in the holy Mishkan.
With Pharaoh’s cruel decree to throw the Jewish male babies into the Nile, and then with no end to slavery in sight, the men had begun to despair. But it was love between husband and wife, even on the most basic level, that sustained the nation until the redemption.
The laver, used to purify the priests’ hands and feet before their service in the Tabernacle, represented the purification of the mundane in order to serve the spiritual. Similarly, the mirrors represented how the physical aspect of the love between a husband and wife was sanctified for a divine purpose.
Another version of the Midrash describes how the women would go to their husbands at work and show them their images in the mirror, side by side, saying, “I am more beautiful than you.” The competitive nature of the men would make them insist that they too were physically attractive. This marital teasing and play raised the spirits of men, allowing the men to see themselves as more than bedraggled slaves.
Furthermore, the Talmud (Sotah 11b) explains that when Pharaoh gave work to the Hebrews, he assigned men to perform work that was normally performed by women, and vice versa. Confusing gender roles disheartened the nation, making the men feel less like men and the women less like women. By beautifying themselves in order to attract their husbands, the wives were reinforcing their own role as wives and mothers while, at the same time, reinforcing their husbands’ self-perception as men, husbands, and fathers.
Using the women’s mirrors to create the laver in the Tabernacle was a testimony to the sanctification of the relationship between husbands and wives. This relationship serves to perpetuate the Jewish nation, and played an important role in its redemption.