Bamidbar – A Lesson in Parenting from Our Father in Heaven

This week we start the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar [Numbers]. The very end of the Torah portion, we find enumerated the family of Kehas, from the tribe of Levi, along with the role they played in carrying and setting up the Ohel Moed [Tent of Meeting].  The Torah portion concludes (Bamidbar 4:17-20): “Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon saying ‘Do not let the family of Kehas be cut off from among the Levites. Thus shall you do for them so that they shall live and not die: when they approach the Holy of Holies, Aharon and his sons shall come and assign them, every man to his work and his burden. But they shall not come and look as the holy is inserted, lest they die.”
The Sforno goes into great detail, verse by verse, on what Hashem was warning the Levites about: “[You] shall not let [the family of Kehas] be cut off… (Verse 18)” meaning, don’t allow them to choose the role of bearers of the Mishkan in a fashion that whoever is there first wins the role. This fashion of choosing roles will come to one pushing another and will profane that which is Holy. This would be a reason to cut them off [from the nation], as was told over in Gemara Yoma 22a by the cleanup of the ashes on the alter. “[Aharon and his sons] shall come and assign them, every man to his work and his burden (verse 19)” and not in a fashion of whoever gets there first wins rather each person should wait for his command to do something. “But they shall not come and look…(verse 20)” In this manner, they will not enter to observe when the Kohen covers the holy vessels in such a manner as to be able to precede others, and thereby they will avoid the pitfall of conducting themselves in a frivolous fashion, bringing upon themselves the death penalty.
Whoever merited carrying the parts of the Mishkan throughout the journeys in the desert were chosen by Aharon and his sons, unlike the system of first come first serve, which was what took place by the daily removal of the ashes from the alter after all the offerings were burnt. It was arranged in this orderly fashion in order not to profane the sanctity of the Holy vessels and parts by acting in an inappropriate way. (Click here for Hebrew text)

The first mishna of the second chapter in Yoma relates that originally whichever Kohen from the family assigned to work in the Beis Hamikdash for that week who wanted to take off the ashes from the alter in the early morning would do so. However, when there were a lot of people interested in doing the job they would have a race up the alter ramp, which was around 50 feet long, and the first one to get within around six feet of the platform at the head of the alter would win the job. This practice was ended after an incident in which two kohanim, who were neck-to-neck racing up the ramp, and one pushed the other off and broke his leg. When the Jewish court saw that this system was becoming dangerous, they decreed that there should be a lottery to decide who would get the job each day, just as was used to divvy out the other jobs in the Beis Hamikdash.

The Gemara in Yoma asks: why wasn’t there a lottery to begin with, to avoid any problems? The Gemara answers that because this was a job done at night the kohanim would not think it is such an important job and it would never come to any fighting. Once they saw that it was still popular and, it in fact, led to danger, then they were forced to enact a decree of a lottery to choose who does the job. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Based on this Sforno quoting the Mishna, the obvious question should return: how was this allowed to be done in the first place? Even the slightest chance of profaning Hashem’s name and disgracing his Holy House should have been avoided at all costs, as seen in this Torah portion. If by just carrying the parts of the Mishkan as Hashem warned, with the penalty of being cut off from the nation, not to act in this frivolous fashion, then all the more so when actually doing a part of the service in the Holy Temple this frivolous business should have been avoided from the start?

We must therefore say that something which is imminent or at least has a good chance of causing a chilul Hashem, a defiling of Hashem’s sanctity, should be avoided at all costs. But when it gets ambiguous, even if there is a slight chance something bad could result, Hashem does not require actions to be taken at first to avoid a serious problem.

We see from here an important lesson in parenting. Hashem, our Father in Heaven, who should be treated with the utmost respect, only takes precautions against the danger of defiling His holiness when it is more common for something like that to happen. However when the chances are slim, like in the case of the removal of the ashes which was done in the wee early morning before the sun came up, then Hashem gave his children, the Kohanim, the chance to act in a diligent and respectful manner in order to get the job done. Only after something actually went wrong did the Rabbis have to come in and create a lottery in order to avoid any worse danger.

Our parenting also should be in a manner to ensure proper precautions are taken to avoid imminent or common problems. We should also give our children room to do things themselves and to choose to do things the appropriate way in circumstances in which it is highly unlikely that something terribly wrong would happen. And if one does see that something wrong is happening, it is at that point that appropriate precautions should be taken to ensure that it does not get any worse.

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