Bamidbar – Vis a Vis

Towards the end of this week’s Torah portion of Bamidbar (7th aliya, perek 4) we find the census of the family of Kehas and the role they played in moving the Mishkan from place to place during the Jews’ travels. Part of the family of Kehas was Aharon and his sons, the kohanim who had the role of disassembling the Mishkan. The rest of the family were plain Leviim, and carried the utensils of the Mishkan, which included, just to name a few, the Menorah, the Shulchan, and Aron HaKodesh [The Holy Ark]. The Torah portion concludes, “Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon saying, ‘Do not let the tribe of the Kehas Families be cut off from among the Leviim. 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 when the holy is inserted, lest they die'” (Bamidbar 4:17-20).

The Medrish Rabba (Bamidbar 5:8) asks on this portion, “What did Hashem see to heed warning to the Family of Kehas more than the other families? Rebbe Yehuda the son of Rebbe Simone said in the name of Rebbe Shmuel the son of Rebbe Yitzchak, there is something better about the tribe of Levi and the family of Kehas which the rest of Jews don’t have. How so? The rest of Jews have no connection to the structure of the Mishkan but the tribe of Levi carried the vessels of the Mishkan. Some carried the planks, some carried the bars, and some carried the sockets, this was what the children of Merari carried. The family of the children of Gershon carried the embroidered tapestries and the family of the children of Kehas carried the Aron. Another answer as to what made the tribe of Levi better than the rest of the Jews is that the rest of the Jews would walk around in sandals but the tribe of Levi who carried the vessels of the mishkan would walk barefoot. (The Yidei Moshe says the reason they walked barefoot was so that they would not have to stop doing their job if their sandal became untied or broke. The Etz Yosef says the reason for walking barefoot was in honor of Hashem’s Holy Presence which rested on the Aron and the vessels). We learn from here that the tribe of Levi was better than all the tribes. And the best of the tribe of Levi was the family of Kehas, for a normal Levite would carry the planks, bars, or sockets, or anything else on wagons, but the family of Kehas carried on their shoulders because they weren’t allowed to place the Aron on a wagon… There is another way that they were better than the rest of the Leviim, for all the Leviim when walking with the parts of the mishkan would walk straight but [two] of the Kehatites [who would be in front] when carrying the mishkan would walk backwards to not turn their backs on the Aron. We find to say that even though they were greater than all the other families, and no doubt from the rest of the Jews but they did not become haughty but rather they were subjugated to the Aron. Why is this? It is because there is no greatness before Hashem. We can say that even though the family of Kehas was of the elite noble class but because they were appointed to carry the Aron they had to carry it like slaves. Hashem says the Torah is life as it says “It’s a tree of life to those that grab onto it” (Mishley 4:2), for it is life for all those that find it and heals their flesh. And The Kehatites grabbed onto the Torah, which is life by carrying the Aron which held in it the Torah, it makes sense they should live and not die…”

The Etz Yosef elaborates when the medrish says “there is no greatness before Hashem,” that means that a person shouldn’t feel conceited in his heart, for if he is arrogant then he is not pleasing before Hashem. And when a person is reminded about the greatness of Hashem, Blessed Is He, and His awesomeness, then how can that person be conceited even if he is better and loftier than any other person; but still in all what is he compared to Hashem, His Creator! (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The medrish determined that the people who were more subjugated, doing the menial work, were greater. This is in fact the opposite of the way we normally think. Typically, the menial, hard labor is left for the lower class, and the important people, managers, the CEO, are just walking around or sitting behind their desks. But when it comes to serving Hashem and taking care of His Palace and Throne in this world, the elite of the elite are in charge and are doing such lowly tasks as carrying the Aron on their shoulders, even walking backwards to face the Aron at all times and also walking barefooted all in honor of the Holy One Blessed Be He.

But isn’t this a lack of gadlus ha’adam? Hashem endowed us with a piece of Him, our soul; we were created in His image. We ourselves are holy. Isn’t it demeaning and degrading, a lack of proper decency, to treat a human being in this fashion? It is treating them more like an animal, having them go barefoot, carrying heavy weight on their shoulders, it’s torturous and potentially dangerous to walk backwards! Why would the Kindest, All Good, Merciful Father, Blessed Be He expect His precious children who were made in His image to do such a patronizing thing?

It must be that it is not a lack of gadlus ha’adam. The reason being is that vis a vis who it’s being done for: The King Of All Kings, Master Of The Universe. Only for Him does it make sense that such levels of respect, in this fashion, is expected to be given to Him, but to no one else. That is why those that had this job were considered to be on a higher tier than the rest of humanity. It is only proper that the best of the best would be chosen to show honor to the All Perfect, All Powerful and Almighty G-D. Anything less is disrespectful. Therefore, what is inhumane treatment for a human, even a human king to have a person do for them, is rightfully honorable for the greatest of nobleman to do for Hashem, and is in fact a show of gadlus ha’adam, the greatness of man.