“Each was given responsibility for his service and porterage at the command of the Lord through Moses, and each was recorded as the Lord had commanded Moses.” (Numbers 4:49)
The tribe of Levi has special responsibilities. Two of the most important are guarding and moving the mishkan (Tabernacle). Parashat Naso begins by naming two clans within the tribe: the Gershonites, responsible for removing the curtains, and the Merarites, responsible for disassembling the structure itself. The actual transporting is done by ox-cart. (Last week’s parasha (portion) identifies the Kohath clan, who carry the most sacred objects such as the ark, the menorah, and the altar.) Every clan has a specific job.
The Torah gives very specific instructions for handling these sacred objects and great care must be taken with them. The division of labor can be understood as a way to build a relationship with God: each clan becomes an expert in a limited set of tasks to preserve the sanctity of God’s designated objects.
However, it is also possible to read the Torah’s directions as a way to build community. Communities require a sense of belonging. What helps people feel they belong is knowing they have meaningful roles to play, that their presence in the community makes a difference, and that things won’t work quite the same if they were absent (think: It’s a Wonderful Life). The three Levite clans know their special role in safeguarding the community (mishandling the objects from the mishkan brings death to the individual and calamity to the community), so they are highly motivated to become expert mishkan movers.
We no longer have the mishkan, but the importance of belonging remains. What are the meaningful roles your JCC offers its members?
Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,