Divrei Torah

PARSHAS BAMIDBAR 5777

At the end of this week’s Parsha, the Torah tells us, “Don’t cut off the family of Kehas from the midst of the Levi’im.” When the Jewish people traveled in the desert, each of the three families of the tribe of Levi had a job. The job of the family of Kehas was to transport many of the items of the Mishkan – the Tabernacle. They carried the menorah, altar, table and many of the other smaller utensils. In addition, they carried the Ark.

Based upon the Midrash, Rabbi Yissachar Frand says that there was a widespread perception that the greatest reward would go to those who carried the Ark because it was the holiest item in the Mishkan. 

Therefore, there was a tendency to abandon the other holy artifacts of the Mishkan and run to carry the Ark. This would lead to fights regarding who should carry the Ark, resulting in a degradation of the reverence for the other artifacts. G-d consequently punished and killed some of the Levi’im. Therefore, the Torah warns us to not discriminate against the family of Kehas.

Although their zeal to carry the Ark was noble, their disputes led to a desecration of the name of G-d – a chillul Hashem. In their desire to do a “bigger mitzvah”, the family of Kehas desecrated the name of G-d - even though their desire was seemingly for the sake of G-d. 

The Mesilas Yesharim – the Path of the Righteous - written  by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato - comments that it is impossible to judge whether an act constitutes piety based upon first impressions. Rather, it requires thought and analysis. One must weigh a thorough “scale of piety” whether or not acts should be encouraged or discouraged. 

Rabbi Frand continues that a person contemplating doing a mitzvah cannot make a snap judgment. Not everything is so clear . . . not every act is a mitzvah. The family of Kehas thought they would be doing a great mitzvah by carrying the Ark, when in reality, they were causing fights and a desecration of the name of G-d. 

Rav Pam zt”l mentioned a story about a newlywed, learning in Kollel, who would regularly come home at 6:00 PM for dinner. His wife prepared a special dinner and anxiously awaited his arrival. It was 6:15 . . . 6:30 . . . 7:00. She was worried and upset. Finally, at 7:30 her young husband came home. He told his wife that somebody needed a ride to the airport, so he did this chesed. Rav Pam countered that it was not a chesed to upset his wife – another example of misplaced piety. 

There is a famous story about Rabbi Yisrael Salanter. He would warn his students who prepared the matzos, not to embarrass the old woman who helped in the matza preparation. Getting angry at a person and embarrassing them is worse than the smallest quantity of chametz. 

In the zeal to carry the ark of G-d, one may consequently shame the menorah, the table, alter and other utensils. Is it really worth violating a Torah prohibition and embarrassing a person in order to defend a personal definition of a mitzvah or minhag? You should not try to be too much of a Tzaddik.  As G-d fearing Jews we must try to carry ourselves in a way that is honorable  both to G-d and the people in our lives.