Pekudei – Precision

 This week’s Torah portion of Pekudei is the conclusion of the Book of Shemos. It continues the discussion from last week of putting together the Mishkan. One of the vessels used in the Mishkan before doing the service in the morning was a water basin, or laver. The Torah stated, “He emplaced the laver between the Tent of Meeting and the Altar, and there he put water for washing. Moshe, Aharon and his sons washed their hands and feet from it. When they came to the Tent of Meeting and when they approached the altar they would wash, as Hashem had commanded them” (Shemos 40:30-32).

The Moshav Zekeinim asks a question on this practice. “Rabbeinu Yeshaya asked a quandary, what was the need for washing the feet, they weren’t used to perform the service as much as the hands were? But one can answer, for it writes, ‘Guard your foot when you go to the House of G-D’” (Koheles 4:17). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 It’s interesting to note that when the Moshav Zekeinim asked his question he wasn’t wondering why the feet should be washed because they are not involved at all in The Service, just as any other body parts don’t have any involvement. The Kohanim didn’t wash any other part of the body upon entering the Mishkan to do The Service. Rather he assumed there was some use during The Service but the feet weren’t as useful as the hands.

It is also interesting to note that the Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 106) mentions that there was a mitzva upon the kohen “to wash his hands and feet whenever he entered the heichal (sanctuary) and to come to do The Service, and this is called the mitzva of sanctifying his hands and feet… The root of the mitzva, the foundation set that has been discussed, is that it’s in order to give greatness to the honor of The House and all the jobs done there. Therefore, it’s befitting to clean his hands, which are doing the job, whenever the kohanim come to do matters in The House.” He mentions nothing about why the feet are cleansed too. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Rabbeinu Bachye says the reason for washing hands was because any servant of a king would first wash his hands before serving the king at his table because hands are always busy and it is a matter of basic sanitation to first wash them before serving food. He then suggests the feet are cleaned because the kohanim walk around barefoot in the Mishkan. (Click here for Hebrew text.)But this doesn’t really answer the Moshav Zekeinim’s question, because according to the Moshav Zekeinim (and really everyone else agrees) the hands were the ones that did the critical service in the Mishkan. Therefore out of proper respect hands should be washed before working; but just because the kohanim take off their shoes and walk barefoot in the Mishkan, why is that a reason to specifically wash them? And if you want to say their feet are the second most useful part of their body during The Service, because they get them from place to place, then why isn’t that enough of a reason to wash the feet or at least stringently wash the feet as opposed to any other body part besides the hands? Why is the Moshav Zekeinim so puzzled about why the feet should be washed, and only after stumbling upon a pasuk in Koheles is satisfied with an answer?

The answer must be that Hashem would not require just anything to be done stringently when setting up the rules of His Palace; on the contrary, to conduct oneself with doubt but in a stringent manner is not as respectful as knowing the halacha – what exactly Hashem wants from you and applying it properly, with precision. Therefore, the Moshav Zekeinim couldn’t understand why the feet met the proper criteria needed to be washed more than any other part of the body beside the hands in order to perform the Service in the Mishkan, until he understood this verse to be teaching this very law.

Parenthetically, it is not so simple to apply this pasuk to these circumstances because all the commentaries on the pasuk say it refers to outside people bringing sacrifices to the Temple, not the kohanim. For example, the medrish Yalkut Shimone on this pasuk in Koheles says, “‘Guard your legs when you walk to the House of G-D,’” Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani said in the name of Rebbe Yochanan, it’s better to Guard your legs from going to sin then to sin and bring an offering [as atonement.] It was only because the Moshav Zekeinim, one of the Baalei Tosfos’, had a sharp mind that can realize this profundity that the pasuk could also be applied to the very service of the Kohanim in the Mikdash, was he able to arrive at such a conclusion. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

That takes in-depth precision to figure out!