He gave two carts and four oxen to the Gershonites, as their work required and he gave four carts and eight oxen to the Merarites, as their work required. They were all under the direction of Ithamar son of Aaron, the priest. But Moses did not give any to the Kohathites, because they were to carry on their shoulders the holy things, for which they were responsible. — Numbers 7:7–9
The Torah portion for this week is Naso, which means “count,” from Numbers 4:21–7:89, and the Haftorah is from Judges 13:2–25.
These days bakeries can make some pretty fancy cakes. But I’d bet that given the choice, most people would prefer a delicious homemade cake for their birthday over a store-bought cake. That’s because nothing compares to the personal touch. A bakery cake might contain the finest ingredients, but only a homemade cake contains a dose of love.
In this week’s Torah portion, we learn that Moses provided oxen and wagons for two out of the three Levite families charged with transporting the Tabernacle when the nation of Israel would travel. To the Gershonites and Merarites, who transported the curtains and support beams for the Tabernacle, Moses provided transportation. But for the family of Kohath, whose job it was to transport the holy vessels such as the Ark, the Lampstand, and the Table for the Showbread, no oxen or wagons were provided. The Kohathites had to carry it all by themselves.
Why the discrepancy?
Hundreds of years earlier, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and the families of his brothers. He commanded, “Take some carts from Egypt for your children and your wives, and get your father and come” (Genesis 45:19). If you look closely at the verse, it says that the carts were for the wives and children of the family. However, Jacob was to be brought down separately. The Jewish sages explain that Jacob was to be carried down on the shoulders of his sons in a regal and honorable manner. If he were placed in a wagon with everyone else, it would be less honorable. Being carried by the hands and shoulders of his sons was a sign of love, respect, and dedication.
Similarly, in the Jewish tradition, when a loved one departs, there is one final act of love and respect that we do in honor of the deceased. As our loved one is being buried, we are careful to be the ones who shovel the dirt onto the coffin. Every friend and family member takes a turn at doing the hard work. Our sweat and labor is a sign of love.
This is why the Kohathites had to carry the most holy and cherished objects on their own backs. It was a display of love, honor, and dedication to the glory of God which these objects represented. It was a labor of love for God.
The lesson for us is to serve God in a hands-on way as well. It’s good to write a check to a charitable organization but even better to work in a soup kitchen. When we physically labor for God, we display our dedication to Him. How might you demonstrate your love for God today?
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President