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(5734) The explanation of the duties of Bnei Gershon and Bnei Merari (and Bnei Kehat) in the desert – in Avodat HaAdam in our time.  


1. It has been discussed many times that the maxim: “the Torah is eternal” applies to the entire Torah, even to those topics in Torah which do not physically exist in our time – for although they do not physically exist, nevertheless they exist spiritually, even now (and the spiritual is the source and root of physicality).

The same applies to that which is discussed in out Parsha – the counting of the Bnei Gershon and Bnei Merari and counting of Bnei Kehat which is stated in the end of the previous Parsha (and concludes in our Parsha). For although, physically, this is not an eternal thing, because the command to count them, and the counting itself, was just once, in the second year of their leaving Egypt – nevertheless the spiritual aspect is eternal – in each generation.

2. This can be explained by prefacing an explanation of why the Bnei Yisroel had to stay in the desert for forty years. For although it is true that because of the Sin of the Spies it was decreed that they not be allowed to enter the land for forty years – “one year for each of the forty days”, this decree was just regarding entering Eretz Yisroel.

(The sin was that they did not want to go to Eretz Yisroel, and therefore they were punished with not allowing them to enter it, measure for measure).

However, these forty years could have been spent in a settled area (outside of Eretz Yisroel) and not in the desert – and especially not in a great and awesome desert a place of snakes, serpents, and scorpions, and thirst where there is no water?

The answer to this is explained in the beginning of Likkutei Torah on our Parsha:

“The reason that they journeyed in the desert with the Mishkan and its vessels was in order to subjugate the power of the forces of unholiness (chitzonim), whose root is specifically the desert”. Moreover: By subjugating the forces of unholiness (chitzonim) and the darkness that conceals “they drew down the revelation of G-dliness”. And in order to accomplish this they needed to be in the desert for forty years”.

Thus, simply, through the journeys of Bnei Yisroel in the desert, the Cloud killed the snakes and scorpions. They also transformed the desert to a habitable place.

A desert is different from a settled place primarily in two aspects:

1.       People do not live there – yet when there were six hundred thousand Bnei Yisroel, (it was transformed and) people did live there.

2.       It is a “land that is not cultivated” – yet when Bnei Yisroel stayed in the desert, (it was transformed and) the water from Miriam’s well “grew unlimited types of grasses and trees”.

This is also the reason (in Pnimiyut) that the Levites were counted separately (from thirty years old etc.) – for their service of carrying the Mishkan and its vessels (in which their Avodah transformed the desert to a settled land (as aforementioned in Likkutei Torah).  For through this special counting, and in this manner they became a “prominent item (davar chashuv).

(Note: Certain foods cannot become nullified/batel, due to their prominent nature).

Therefore the desert did not affect them (because a Davar She’biminyan – “a thing that is counted (i.e. sold by unit) is considered ‘prominent’ and cannot be batel). On the contrary they transform it to a “settled land”.

3. This concept – to make the “desert” into a “habitable place” and the power to do this from Above, through the commandment to count them - is an eternal aspect (like all the aspects in Torah, as aforementioned) in each generation.

When a person contemplates his environment, it can sometimes appear as a “desert where (Supernal) man does not live there”. For most of the people in his surroundings are not aware of the aspect of G-dliness (Supernal Man/Adam HaElyon). And of those that do know and those that exhort people to conduct themselves according to the directives of Torah – nevertheless, there is “no righteous man on earth who does good and sins not.” Or at the very least is lacking in his Avodah from the proper manner.

Accordingly he (feels that he is) in a “desert where (Supernal) man does not live there”. For Supernal Man (G-dliness) is not there in a manner of dwelling there - permanence. The person serving G-d can therefore fall into depression and hopelessness, G-d forbid, abandon his mission/shlichus to the “poor of the city/aniyei ircha” and flee to another place etc.

To this comes the directive to journey into the desert and change it – like the journey of Bnei Yisroel in the desert, in our Parsha.

Just as the journey in the desert was then, according to G-d’s command, and they transformed the desert to a habitable place, the same applies to each and every Jewish person at all times. For wherever he is found, even if the place is a “desolate desert”, his presence there is (not by coincidence, G-d forbid, but rather) is to fulfill G-d’s mission – for “G-d guides the steps of man” in order that he transform it, through his Avodah, to a habitable place for (Supernal) man.

According to Rambam this applies to everyone, as he states:

“Not only the tribe of Levi, but any one . . whose spirit generously motivates him . . to set himself aside and stand before G-d to serve Him etc. . . G-d will be His portion and heritage . .like He provides for the priests and the Levites” –

One just has to give of his spirit to serve G-d and minister unto Him and to “instruct people at large in His just paths and righteous judgments”. He will then be given from Above, the power and importance – where he is not insignificant (batal) – and he will go from level to level – as it states concerning (Bnei Gershon): “lift up also the head” – lifting the head in conjunction with one who is greater than he. And even more so until he reaches the level (of Bnei Kehat) where it states: “lift up the head” itself (note: minus the word ‘gam”). Through this he has the ability to make his place (even if it began as a desert) – into an abode for G-d.

4. This lesson is also applicable to a person’s Avodah with himself.

When a person makes a true accounting/cheshbon tzedek of what has happened to him, he can sometimes come to the “conclusion” that his conduct was at the level of a “desert” – and therefore he can lose hope, G-d forbid, thinking:

“How can I change my conduct? Especially if a year has passed and he feels as if the conduct is permitted or especially if he has accustomed himself so more than two times, for custom becomes one’s nature (hergal naaseh teva)?”

On this comes the directive:

Just as the Levites, who were the thirty years and older, and having never performed the service of the Mishkan, nevertheless received the power (even until the level of “lift up the head”) to carry the Mishkan, from then on, and to transform the desert to a habitable place - and in actuality – for all this actually happened,

so too, everyone, without looking at his situation hitherto , if he resolves from now on to “stand before G-d to serve and minister to Him”, he will be given the power to purify himself (and his clothing/externality) from all the unfavorable aspects that were in the past when he was in the “desert”, and to draw down the revelation of G-dliness into his soul where it will be said regarding him: “And I will dwell among them to be a Mishkan for Him”.

5. In order for a person and his surroundings to become an abode for G-d, there must be the Avodah in the two tracks:

·         “Turning from evil/sur m’ra.

·         “Doing good/Asei tov.

This is like the example of a mortal king who wants to prepare for himself a dwelling. First he must “clean the palace of all dirt and refuse etc. and only then arrange beautiful articles there”. The same apples to making an abode for G-d. One requires the two aspects of turning from evil and doing good.

Even this aspect is alluded to in the Bnei Gershon and Bnei Kehat (the carriers of the Mishkan).

·         Gershon is from the word: Geirushin/divorce – representing turning from evil/sur m’ra.

·         Kehat is from the phrase: “and to him shall be an assembly of nations” - representing the gathering and collection of good aspects - doing good/Asei tov.

And just as Gershon was born before Kehat, the same applies to the order of Avodah. First there must be the “turning from evil” and afterward the “doing good” (similar to the arrangement of beautiful articles that comes after cleaning the palace of dirt etc.).

6. The effects of Avodah of “turning from evil” and “doing good” are also understood in the context of the difference between the burdens of Bnei Gershon versus the burdens of Bnei Kehat:

·         Bnei Gershon carried the curtains of the Mishkan etc.

·         Whereas Bnei Kehat carried the vessels of the Mishkan the Ark, and the Table etc.

The difference between the curtains etc. and the vessels is that the curtains etc. surround and protect. However the vessels – each have a specific Avodah and effect as it states: the Ark of testimony, the table of showbread etc.

The concept in Avodah is:

·         “Turning from evil/sur m’ra (negation) protects a person from something that is forbidden to him and harmful.

·         “Doing good/Asei tov – is the performance of Mitzvot which are testimonies/eidut. The hand that distributes Tzedaka becomes an actual vehicle (for G-dliness) etc.

Through these two Avodah’s one makes a Mishkan and abode for G-d, completely.

mSichas Shabbat Parshat Naso 5732

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