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G-d spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Lift up the heads (count) the sons of Gershon… from ages thirty to fifty, to include all that join the legion to work in the tent of meeting… This is the service of the family of Gershon; to work and to carry… the curtains of the Tabernacle and the Tent of Meeting… their utensils…’ (4:22-25)
(On the day the Tabernacle was fully consecrated) the Israelite princes (one from each tribe) brought their offerings to G-d; six covered wagons and twelve oxen – a wagon from each of two princes and an ox from each – and they brought them before the Tabernacle. G-d said to Moses: ‘You may take them… they shall be for the service of the Tent of Meeting. You shall give them to the Levites, each according to the needs of his work’. Moses took the wagons… he presented two of them together with four oxen to the sons of Gershon… and four wagons and eight of the oxen he gave to the sons of Merari, in accordance with their work… (7:3-8)
The name of the parasha – naso – is translated as ‘count’ or ‘take a census’. Naso et rosh may also be translated as ‘lift up the head’ – which is its literal translation. Indeed, the Ramban (to 1:2) writes that ‘lift up the head’ has two implications; one positive and the other negative. It could mean that the people would spiritually be lifted up to an exalted level, or that literally, their heads would be removed. – as Joseph used the term to mean both, when he predicted that the chief butler would be restored to his former glory and that the chief baker would be executed (Gen. 40:13,19). Likewise, explains the Ramban, this term communicated to the people that would be spiritually uplifted if they were worthy; but they would suffer greatly if they would not.
The task allocated to the Gershon (and Merari) sub-tribes of Levi were both heavy and less prestigious compared to the middle sub-tribe Kehat – whose house include Moses and Aaron. The sub-tribe of Kehat were given sole responsibility for the holiest of Tabernacle artefacts – the Holy Ark containing the Tablets of Stone, the menora, the golden table, the two altars (4:1-20). In contrast, the Gershon and Kehat only got the heavier, and socio-religiously less-prestigious external structures: the boards, the curtains, the courtyard fittings.
Which they accepted without murmur of complaint. Even though Gershon – not Kehat – was the firstborn of Levi. Unlike Korach, who in similar position complained about the precedence of Eltzafan ben Uziel (3:30, see also Rashi to 16:1), Gershon accepted his portion willingly.
In doing so, G-d made it easier. A rich donation of wheeled transport came unexpectedly from the princes of the other tribes. That would save Gershon (and Merari) nearly all the hard work. Instead of having to schlep the heavy boards and posts over expanses of hot, desert territory, the ox-powered wagons would do the whole job for them.
That would deprive Gershon and Merari of the mitzvah of transporting their part of the Tabernacle. Surely that would deprive them of their spiritual portion?
G-d effectively said ‘No!’
For the subtribes of Gershon and Merari accepted the less glamorous roles – Gershon even though his branch was the firstborn of Levi. Their very commitment was enough. That was expressed by their taking those lesser positions willingly and without protest.
Having fully accepted, their fulfillment was not being reduced by having the oxen and wagons doing nearly all the work for them. For – as the Rabbis put it – when a person intends to carry out a good deed, but cannot do so for circumstances beyond their control, G-d treats the good intention as though he actually did the deed. Machashava Ke-Ma-aseh – the thought is worthy as the deed.
That may well be what G-d was teaching Moses. He told Moses to accept the gift and assign it to the Levite sub-tribes. Yes – that prince-donated consignment of transport would ease the burdens on Gershon and Kehat. But it would not detract for the good deed of willingly accepting the less-prestigious tasks without protest. For Machashava Ke-Ma-aseh – the thought is worthy as the deed.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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