Taking a Risk to Serve God

Yael Eckstein  |  June 2, 2022

Five soldiers facing the Western Wall praying.

The number of all the males a month old or more was 8,600. The Kohathites were responsible for the care of the sanctuary. — Numbers 3:28

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Bamidbar, which means “in the desert,” from Numbers 1:1–4:20.

One of the biggest differences between living in America, where I grew up, and living in Israel is the army. Israel has a mandatory draft. Everyone serves. I can’t say that this didn’t cross my mind when my husband and I decided to move to Israel, but as the years go by and my children grow older, I think about it more and more.

Of course, the thought of my kids in uniform serving in the first Jewish army in the land of Israel in over 2,000 years fills me with great pride. But I would be lying if I said that as a mother, it doesn’t also make me worry. What mother wants to see their children in harm’s way?

I’m proud to say that in our community, rather than avoiding combat units where the danger is greater, our young people consider it a goal they aspire to achieve. Serving in the army of God’s chosen people to defend the land He promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is viewed as a privilege rather than a burden.

Taking a Risk to Serve God

In this week’s Torah portion, we read a message about the willingness to put ourselves in harm’s way in the service of God’s purposes. Three Levite families — Gershon, Kohat, and Merari — were tasked with caring for and carrying all the pieces and vessels of the Tabernacle. But in Numbers 3:28, one family is referred to: “The Kohathites were responsible for the care of the sanctuary.”

No similar phrase is used in the listing of the other two Levite families, the families of Gershon and Merari, even though all three families cared for various components of the sanctuary.

The Jewish sages explain that because the family of Kohath was responsible for carrying the Holy Ark, they were constantly in harm’s way. Any mishandling of the ark could be fatal, as in the story of King David and Uzzah, when Uzzah grasped the ark and was struck down by God. (Read 2 Samuel 6.)

The family of Kohath, and not the other Levite families, is credited as “those who were responsible for the care of the sanctuary,” because, like the warriors of today’s Israel Defense Force, they happily accepted this great danger, considering it an honor, not a burden, in taking a risk in order to serve God.

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