Q: What did the waiter ask the group of Jewish mothers?
A: "Is anything OK?"
The Levite Family Tree
Levi, one of the 12 sons of Jacob (the third of our forefathers, a grandson of the first Jew Abraham), had three sons - Gershon, Kehas and Merari - as well as a daughter, Yocheved. While Yocheved mothered Moses and Aaron, the teacher and High Priest of Israel, her three brothers fathered the Levi tribe (1) who dedicated their lives to the spiritual service of the Holy Tabernacle and at a later point the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, an abode the Jewish people erected for the manifest presence of G-d (2).
In this week's portion (3), Naso, the Torah relates how these three Levite families were charged with the mission of carrying the Tabernacle and its accessories when the Jewish people traveled in the Sinai desert for 40 years.
The Kehathites carried the holiest items of the Tabernacle: the ark, candelabra, table, altars and all their utensils. The Gershonites were given the job of carrying the coverings and curtains of the Tabernacle. The third of the Levite families, Merari, was responsible to carry the planks, bars, pillars and sockets of the Tabernacle structure.
One of the axioms that define traditional biblical scholarship is the idea that each event recorded in the Torah may be understood also from a psychological and spiritual point of view, granting all biblical events timeless significance (4).
This obviously is valid for our subject as well. While on the surface, the intricate description of the three Levite families as the movers of the Tabernacle bears no relevance to our lives today, a deeper look at the spiritual meaning behind their respective roles allows us to glean wisdom and inspiration for our daily challenges and struggles (5).
Let's examine for a moment the names of the three brothers who fathered the Levite families -- since names of people do express something of their inner soul (6).
The translation of the Hebrew name Kehas is harmony (7). The meaning of the name Gershon is expulsion (8). The third name Merari is translated as frustration (9).
Now, the spiritual Divine soul existing within each of us is defined in the Kabbalah as a "microcosmic Tabernacle," a sacred and vulnerable place in the depth of our hearts where G-d is manifestly present (10). Gershon, Kehas and Merari personify three distinct psychological and spiritual states of man, each of which may become in its own unique way a carrier and porter of the spiritual Tabernacle existing in the human heart.
Kehas -- Harmony
Kehas -- the name of the Levite family that carried the sacred items and utensils of the Tabernacle -- represents the human being who succeeds in integrating all of the facets of his personality into a cohesive and harmonious whole. This remarkable individual manages to transform all of his traits and characteristics into sacred items and all of his limbs and organs into sacred utensils, housing the presence of the Divine reality.
Gershon -- Expulsion
Gershon - the name of the Levite family assigned to carry the coverings and curtains of the Holy Tabernacle – personifies the human being who constantly needs to expel and drive away the immoral impulses and sensations that intrude on his psyche.
This individual cannot define himself as harmonious and complete. His job in life is ensuring that the sacred Tabernacle existing within his heart remains protected and shielded from the many physical and emotional hazards that threaten to undermine it (expressed by the fact that Gershon carried the coverings and curtains).
Merari - Frustration
Merari - the name of the family that carried the pillars and planks of the Tabernacle - personifies that individual who may not even be expelling the negative patterns of his daily life. Yet he is not apathetic to his lowly condition; he is frustrated and disturbed by it. He longs for wholesomeness and redemption.
One may think that a human being in this state of mind is not one of the carriers of the Divine tabernacle. After all, he is so distant from the spiritual sacredness of his soul. Yet, in truth, it is this disaffected and frustrated human being who carries the very foundations of the Divine Tabernacle.
This is because the beginning of all healing and the foundation of all change is a feeling of frustration and yearning. The disappointment and lack of contentment with one's present condition is what propels man to discover new horizons in his life (11).
Simply put, if you are truly frustrated by your present situation, you are in a place far better than you can imagine. Now get on with the journey in stride.
(This essay is based on the writings of Chabad Chassidism (12)).
1) It should be noted that Yocheved married her nephew, Amram, a son of her brother Kehas (Exodus 6:20).
2) See Exodus chapters 25-40. Numbers chapter 3.
3) Numbers 4:21-33. This continues the discussion from last week's portion, Numbers 3:14-4:20.
4) See, for example, Zohar III 53b; Nachmanides' and Gur Aryeh commentary on the opening verse of Genesis; Assarah Maamarot (by Rabbi Menacham Azaryah of Fanu) Maamar Chikur HaDin, 3:22.
5) Likkutei Torah and Or Hatorah Parshas Naso.
6) Names, particularly names mentioned in the Torah, are said to reflect the inner structure of those people or items called by these names (see Tanya part 2, chapter 1).
7) See Genesis 49:10 and Rashi ibid.
8) Likkutei Torah Naso p. 24d and Or Hatorah Naso.
9) Likkutei Torah ibid. p. 20c.
10) Likkutei Torah p. 20b and references noted there.
11) Cf. Tanya chapter 31.
12) See Or Hatorah Naso p. 248; Likkutei Sichos vol. 13 Naso; Likkutei Torah Naso. - Cf. Letorah Ulemoadim (by Rabbi S.Y. Zevin) pp. 185-6.