A Tough Balancing Act by Rabbi Avi Pollak


At the end of this week’s Parsha, we learn that Bnei Kehat were responsible for transporting the vessels of the Kodesh and Kodesh HaKodashim, including the Aron, Shulchan, Menorah and Mizbeiach.  But their privileges extended no further than carrying; they were not permitted to see any of these vessels, and they could not even decide which vessels each of them would carry.  We are told in 4:19 that Aharon and his sons were instead instructed to distribute the vessels among the Bnei Kehat who had come to do the job of carrying.

The Seforno explains that if Bnei Kehat were given the opportunity to decide who would carry what, they would come to quarrel and fight over the job, which would be a terrible Chilul Hashem.

This explanation can be better appreciated in light of the accounts of this scene recorded by Chazal in Midrash Rabbah.  One Midrash claims that the Bnei Kehat would do anything possible to avoid the task of carrying the Aron.  They feared that they would be harshly punished for not doing the job with the immense respect the holy Aron deserved, and they would therefore opt for the less risky task of carrying one of the other vessels.  However, another Midrash claims that the Bnei Kehat would do whatever possible to be awarded the task of carrying the Aron, for the great reward for successfully carrying the holiest of vessels was worth the risk.

According to the first Midrash, the Aron was the neglected vessel, while according to the second, the other vessels were neglected.  But whether the Bnei Kehat flocked towards the great reward for properly carrying the Aron or ran from the terrible punishment for improperly carrying it (or both), we clearly see how important it was that Aharon and his sons responsibly assign who would carry which vessels.  Only an objective supervisor who stood above the passion and trepidation of the moment could guarantee that all of the Mishkan’s vessels were shown the respect they deserved.

The responsibility of the Kohanim regarding Bnei Kehat parallels one of the great challenges Jewish communal leaders face – guiding their communities to approach Avodat HaShem with a sense of balance and equilibrium.  It is easy for a community to devote enormous energy and attention to one type of mitzvah or spiritual endeavor and neglect another, equally important one.  Conversely, it is common for segments of a community to shy away from Mitzvah endeavors that seem exclusive and intimidating.  We place our trust in the Chochmei HaMesorah to help guide us towards achieving an appreciation of the totality of our Torah.

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