Tuesday, May 30, 2006


A Midrash for Shavuot

The words of Torah are likened to water, as it is written, O all who thirst, come for water, (Is. 55:1)

Just as water goes from one end of the earth to the other, so does Torah go from one end of the earth to the other;
Just as water is a life source, so is Torah a source of life;
Just as water is free to all, so is Torah a free commodity;
Just as water comes from heaven, so too is the Torah's origin in heaven;
Just as water are given to the accompaniment of powerful thunderings, so is Torah given to the accompaniment of powerful thunderings;
Just as water quenches one's thirst, so does Torah satisfy the soul;
Just as water cleanses the body from impurity, so does Torah cleanse the soul;
Just as water originates in tiny drops and accumulates into mighty streams and rivers, so the Torah is acquired word by word today, verse by verse tomorrow;
Just as water descends from a high altitude, so does Torah depart from haughty individuals and remain in individuals who are humble and modest;
Just as water is not kept in silver or gold vessels, but the simplest [clay], so Torah is retained by those who are simple;
Just as a scholar is not embarrassed to ask a student, 'pass me some water,' a scholar is not embarrassed to learn from a student a chapter, a verse, a word, or even a letter;
Just as someone who does not know how to swim is drowned in water, so is Torah - if one doesn't know how to 'swim' one can drown in it. (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1, Midrash Shocher Tov 1, Sifrei Devarim 48)

Take them also

Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

According to the well known tradition, the tribe of Levi was chosen to serve G-d after the sin of the golden calf when The Holy One was so disgusted with the first born that He decided to replace them with the one tribe that had not sinned, the tribe of Levi. The tribe of Levi served as the "wheels" of the Tabernacle, they took it apart, reassembled it and carried it during the long journey through the desert.

However, not everyone in the tribe of Levi had the same task. At the end of Parashat Bemidbar, which we read last week, the Torah described the tasks of the sons of Qehat, one of the three families of the tribe of Levi.

Our Parasha begins with the tasks of the sons of Gershon, another of the families of the tribe of Levi. During the journey of the Sons of Israel, the sons of Gershon were to carry the curtains that covered and protected the tabernacle together with the screens for the Tent of Meeting.

The sons of Qehat who were mentioned at the end of Parashat Bemidbar had a far more central task. They carried the ark and the table and the altars and all of the holy vessals.

Parashat Naso opens with the words: "And the Lord spoke to Moshe saying: Take also the sum of the sons of Gershon, by the houses of their fathers, by their families" (Bemidbar 4:21-22)

It would seem that there are two extraneous words in this opening sentence. Why does the Torah say "also"? Won't Moshe remember them? What is the meaning of these words?

Here is a much more mundane example. What about the football player whose team wins the world cup while he sat on the bench throughout the game? Has he won the championship to the same extent as those who actually played on the field?

The truth is that we must understand that peoples, communities (and football teams) are made up of different components with different places in the hierarchy. I imagine that the people of Israel looked upon the tribe of Levi as the chosen tribe. But the same phenomenon existed within the tribe as well. The sons of Gershon looked at the sons of Qehat as the chosen ones. The task of carrying the ark in public seemed much more central than the carrying of the curtains of the tabernacle and the screens of the Tent of Meeting.

People have a tendency to grant special importance to those who perform tasks rated highly in the hierarchy. However, the Holy One looks on from above and he sees groups of men who have in common a past, a present and most important, common goals.

There is a tale that once all the parts of the body went out on strike against the stomach. They claimed that they worked hard in order to feed the body, while the stomach just enjoyed the fruits of their labor. And so the hands decided not to bring food to the mouth. The mouth decided not to open. The teeth refused to chew. The throat refused to swallow. As a result, the whole body was weakened.

When the Holy One said about the sons of Gershon, "Take also the sons of Gershon", He was in effect saying "Don't think that their task is of secondary importance. For me there is no such thing. The people of Israel is a work force, resembling man's body, and not a number of individuals working together for different aims.

"Take also the sons of Gershon", said the Holy One.

For me there are no classes.
They all have their role to play.