Naso: To be lifted

When you have the privilege of carrying the Holy Ark, you don’t hand the mitzvah over to an ox. If we take the easy route and don’t lift with our shoulders, our children do the same.

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, | updated: 15:48

Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow

To celebrate the inauguration of the tabernacle, the Jewish tribal princes made several key contributions. Among them were four wagons and eight oxen to transport the sacred vessels across the desert. When the Jews would travel in the desert, the Levites would disassemble the tabernacle and transport it, using these oxen and wagons.

Moses distributed the oxen and wagons to the Levitic families responsible for the transportation. However, Moses did not allocate a wagon to the Kehati family although they had the most sacred responsibility of all. Their role was to carry the Holy Ark, and yet they were not assigned a wagon.

The Torah tells us this was because the work of carrying the most sacred objects should be not be assigned to oxen. It should be carried on their own shoulders.

My Mitzvah

When Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev was a child, two illustrious rabbis visited his parents’ home. When the child heard that the visitors would lodge overnight, he hastened to prepare a bedroom for the visitors. His father asked him why didn’t instruct the hired help to prepare the room. The young Levi Yitzchak replied, G-d gave me a chance to perform a mitzvah, why should I give it away to another and yet pay him for it?

When you have the privilege of carrying the Holy Ark, you don’t hand the mitzvah over to an ox. You carry it yourself. What of the strain? What of the weight? If you feel the privilege of the mitzvah, it won’t be a burden. I once wrote about two men carrying a heavy backpack up a mountain. One was carrying rocks, the other was carrying diamonds. The first grew more fatigued with each step, the second grew more empowered with each step.

When you are carrying diamonds, you don’t feel the strain. When you are carrying G-d’s sacred ark, you don’t feel the burden. Many of our great sages made a point of personally baking their Matzah for Passover, building their Sukah for Sukot, or preparing their meal for Shabbat. Such work might be beneath a dignified leader, but not when it’s a mitzvah. It is never demeaning to fulfill G-d’s will. The sacred work is incumbent on them, with their shoulders they shall carry it.

To be Lifted
The actual words used by the Torah is not with their shoulders they shall carry it, but with their shoulders they shall lift it. The Torah wanted us to realize that the Holy Ark was not lightweight. It was a vessel that required heavy lifting. But the Hebrew word, yisa’u, they shall lift, can also be understood as they shall be lifted. Because the Levites who lifted the ark, were themselves lifted by it. They lifted, and they were lifted.

Our sages taught that although the Levites carried the ark, the ark traveled of its own accord. The Levites simply held on and were carried along. They carried it and were carried by it. On the surface it appeared as if the Levites were the guardians of the ark. In truth, the ark guarded its guardians.

When we dig deep to do G-d’s bidding even when it is inconvenient and costly, we feel a sense of exaltedness and achievement that can’t be derived from anything else. When we know that we set our comforts and interests aside and did the right thing, we feel an internal gratification the likes of no other. We dig deep to lift the mitzvah, but in turn, it lifts us up.

It is easy to take the facile route and cut corners. We can grant ourselves permission to take the lenient path with all manner of justification. But in the end, when we sit back to enjoy the extra time we gained or the extra money we saved by avoiding our sacred obligations and responsibilities, the victory seems hollow. By contrast, when we return home, sapped and spent, but knowing that we did the right thing, we experience an unparalleled thrill. No other compensation is necessary. The deep-seated sense of propriety, of knowing that we made G-d proud, is all the reward we need.

Teachers
One final thought on the subject. The Levites were the teachers of the Jewish people. They set the example for the nation. Those Levites who carried the Holy Ark, were the prime teachers, the crème de la crème of the Levites.

When Moses was given eight oxen and four wagons to distribute, he decided that he could not hand these creature comforts to the primary Levitic teachers. The holy task was incumbent on them, thus they needed to lift with their shoulders.

If we want to inspire your children to be passionate and faithful Jews, we must be willing to do it right. it is not enough to practice bare-bones Judaism. For example, we cannot plan a vacation for March Break and then tell the kids, “oops, we forgot to check the calendar, I guess we will skip Purim this year.” If we enrol the children in an extracurricular event and it happens to fall on Shavuot, we cannot simply tell the children, “I know how important this is to you, so this year we will skip Shavuot.”

This kind of example will not inspire our children to follow. If we want to rise to the sacred task that is incumbent on us, the task of modeling Judaism to our children, then we need to dig deep and lift with our shoulders. Even if it changes our well laid plans and well-deserved vacations, even if it costs us a pretty penny, we need to show our children that Judaism comes first.

If we take the easy route and don’t lift with our shoulders, our children will learn from our example. If we dig deep and do the right thing, even when it is challenging and difficult, our children will learn from our example. The Kehati Levites lifted with their shoulders. They couldn’t afford the luxury of sitting back and letting the wagons carry the Holy Ark. They were teachers. And so are we

Story
A man once asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory how he might inspire his children to study more Torah. The Rebbe replied that if he studies more Torah, his children will follow in his footsteps. Children do what they see their parents do.



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