Parashat Naso- Respecting the Bearers of the Ark
Parashat Naso begins by discussing the Gershon family of Leviyim. The tribe of Levi was assigned the responsibility of transporting the Mishkan when Beneh Yisrael traveled through the wilderness, and the three families of Leviyim – Gershon, Kehat and Merari – were assigned to different parts of the Mishkan. The end of last week’s Parasha, Parashat Bamidbar, discussed the role of the Kehat family, and the Torah continues at the beginning of Parashat Naso by discussing the responsibilities assigned to Gershon.
The Keli Yakar (Rabbi Shlomo Efrayim Luntshitz, Prague 1550-1619) raises the question of why the Torah arranged its discussion in this sequence. Gershon was the oldest of the three sons of Levi, and yet the Torah first discusses the family of Kehat before the family of Gershon. The answer that is given, as the Keli Yakar cites, is that Kehat is mentioned first because this family had the distinction of carrying the Aron (ark). The Aron was, of course, the most sacred of all the articles of the Mishkan, and thus Kehat’s role is described first because it included the holiest “cargo.” However, the Keli Yakar points out, this answer just leads us to another question: why was the younger brother assigned the most distinguished role? Why wasn’t the family of Gershon, the oldest son of Levi, given the honor of transporting the Aron?
The Keli Yakar explains that this honor was given to Kehat precisely to demonstrate that the precedence of this family is due to the Aron. If the family of Gershon had carried the Aron, then we might have thought that the Torah discusses Gershon first simply because he was the oldest brother. God therefore granted this privilege to Kehat, so that Kehat would be presented first in the Torah, before the other two Levite families, and we would then understand that the Torah is giving honor to the tribe that transports the Aron. It had to be made clear that the family discussed first received this distinction not due to any factor other than its role as the bearers of the Aron. In this way, the Torah emphasizes the point that we should reserve the highest honors for those who carry the Aron, the Torah. The most important factor in determining who receives honor is Torah. Indeed, Halacha instructs that a Torah scholar of undistinguished lineage takes precedence over an ignorant Kohen Gadol when it comes to certain honors. The ones who deserve the most honor are the rabbis, the Torah scholars, and it was for the purpose of emphasizing this point that Kehat – the family of the younger brother – was given the role of carrying the Aron.
The Keli Yakar’s insight should remind us to exercise care in how we relate to our rabbis. Torah scholarship is what should draw our respect and reverence – not wealth or social stature. We must respect, honor and admire the Torah scholars so that we heed their guidance and gain inspiration from their devotion to Torah. They, the ones who carry the “ark,” our ancient Torah tradition, are the ones deserving of the greatest honor and respect.