We Are All Priests and Levites

The Torah sections dealing with the Tabernacle, the Priests and the Levites should be applied in all areas of life * Each person in his field of work should be a like Priest, avoiding anything that might interfere with his work * People with senior and important positions, such as in the fields of medicine or in the army, should model themselves after the High Priest who was enlisted for the sake of the public, at the expense of family * All of us, in the synagogue, at work, or in family, are like the three sons of Levi – sometimes assuming matters of holiness ourselves, like the Kehati’s, sometimes climbing to higher levels like the Gershoni’s, and at other times, remaining like the Merari’s – which is also fundamental and indispensable


The Work of the Tabernacle – The Prototype of Our Task in Tikun Olam

In numerous sections, the Torah goes on at length describing the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its vessels, the work of the Kohanim (priests) and the Levi’im (Levites), because the Mikdash (Holy Temple, interchangeable with Mishkan) is the quintessence of entirety, from which, as a prototype, we can learn how to engage in yishuv and tikun olam (developing and improving the world). This can be learned from the laws of Shabbat: We were commanded not to do any work – but what type of work is forbidden on Shabbat? We have learned from the Torah that all the thirty-nine types of work that the Jewish nation performed in order to build the Mishkan are considered the significant tasks in the world, and are forbidden on Shabbat, while types of work that were unnecessary for erecting the Mishkan are considered less significant, and therefore, there is no prohibition of performing them on Shabbat. The idea emerging from this teaching is that all of our work during the six week days is intended to continue the idea of the Mishkan into the entire world, until the whole world turns into a Mishkan for the Shechina (Divine Presence) – for Divine values, such as the values of truth and kindness, charity and mercy; so that wherever a person works le’Shem Shamayim (for the sake of Heaven), with honesty and kindness, to add and blessing in the world, the Shechina will dwell.

Continuing the Sanctity of the Mikdash to All Types of Work

Similarly, being that the mitzvoth of leket, shich’chah, and pe’ah (gifts to the poor from the fields) are mentioned in the middle of the Torah’s detailing of the Mo’adim (appointed holidays), we learned that: “One who gives leket, shich’chah, and pe’ah properly, is considered as if he built the Beit HaMikdash and brought his sacrifices in it” (Torat Kohanim 13:12). Thus, we see that a person who works in his field diligently and with integrity, continues the sanctity of the Mikdash into his field, and when he leaves leket, shich’chah, and pe’ah for the poor, he erects, as it were, a mizbayach (alter) in the middle of his field, and brings sacrifices to God.

Thus, for example, even a person who works in a bank, if he conducts himself honestly and diligently, in order to contribute his share to the economic development and improvement of the world, he thereby continues the sanctity of the Mikdash into the bank. And if he goes the extra mile and troubles himself beyond his obligation in order to benefit others with good advice, he builds there, so to speak, a mizbayach, and brings sacrifices to God on it.

All Work is Similar to the Service of the Kohanim

Just as the Kohanim must consecrate themselves for the service in the Mikdash, and avoid things that may distract them from their work, so too, each person must find moral value in his work, and like the Kohen, purify and sanctify himself for it. If he is a teacher or a doctor, he should take care to sleep well, so he can fulfill his duty properly. If he is an engineer, he should not rest on his laurels, but expand his knowledge and direct his energies in order to add benefit and blessing in his work. This is true for all types of work.

The Mesirut of the Kohanim Gedolim

There are special individuals who are similar to Kohanim Gedolim (High Priests), such as a doctor with a rare life-saving capability, who must sanctify himself like the Kohen Gadol entering the Holy of Holies, and not leave the sanctuary of his work, even for the purpose of his relatives. And even if in the middle of his son’s canopy, he is suddenly called to the hospital, he will quickly excuse himself from his son, wife, and guests, and everyone understands why he must leave; they will escort him with prayers for success in fulfilling his mission, to save the patient presently fluttering between life and death.

The commander of an elite army unit should also be ready at all times for any call, and if while accompanying his wife to give birth he is suddenly called to save Jewish lives from the hands of our enemies, he will calmly part from her. And just as all of Israel would pray for the Kohen Gadol to exit the Holy of Holies peacefully, so too, while giving birth his wife prays for her husband, that he return from the battle in peace, to see their new-born child.

Kehat – Bearers of Sacred Values

Likewise, we can learn from the order of the carrying of the Mishkan by the three Levite families – Gershon, Kehat, and Merari – as a prototype for all types of work in the world.

The B’nei Kehat (sons of Kehat) merited carrying the holy vessels used in the Mishkan, which expressed the entirety of essential ideas: the Ark in the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim (the Holy of Holies) meant the Torah. The Shulchan (the Inner Table), indicated parnasah (livelihood), whose source originates from holiness. The menorah, which alluded to the various chochmot (knowledge), also originating from the holy. The mizbayakh ha’penimi (Inner Altar), symbolizing prayers and longing for God, and the mizbayakh ha’chitzoni (Outer Altar), which expressed Israel’s misirut nefesh (self-sacrifice) for their faith in God.

In all frameworks of work, there are those who warrant being involved with the central function, and then, those who assist them. B’nei Kehat merited engaging in the central function – bearing the holy vessels, which expressed all of the sacred values.

Indeed, from the family of Kehat came Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen – from whom all the Kohanim emanate.

Gershon – Bearers of the Outer Covering, Ohr Makif

B’nei Gershon carried the outer covering of the Mishkan – its tapestries, the over-tent and roof, and the enclosure’s hangings. The outer covering of the Mishkan carried great importance because all of the vessels, each one with its specific significance, received inspiration from its surroundings.

To put it differently, the Mishkan’s vessels allude to ohr ha’penimi (the inner-light), and its tapestries allude to ohr ha-makif (surrounding light). In order to understand this matter, it must first be explained that Divine Light which God shines on us, is divided into two components: ohr penimi, and ohr makif. The perceptible component is the ohr penimi, which we are able to assimilate through our thoughts and emotions, and which, in practice, guides our lives. The component that is beyond our ability to absorb, acts as an ohr makif, which, although unable to encompass, envelops our beings and gives us inspiration, and has a decisive influence on our lives.

One of the tasks of the Levites was to sing and play music while people brought their sacrifices. Songs give expression to a longing for something beyond our perception. Kehat engaged in the comprehensible, whereas B’nei Gershon expressed the longing for what is beyond the surface. Even their name, Gershon, alludes to this: Gershon stems from the Hebrew word ger (stranger), alluding to a person who lives his life as a foreigner in this world, his soul longing for closeness to God and the Divine light. Such longing is expressed in songs filled with yearning for a return to Gan Eden.

Merari – The Arduous Burden

B’nei Merari were left with the hard work – bearing the heaviest burden: to carry the beams, crossbars, pillars, and bases of the Mishkan, through all the difficult and arduous paths of the desert.

Seemingly, the lives of B’nei Merari were bitter; their job was hard, backbreaking, and unrewarding. The important vessels, symbolic of the ohr penimi, were in the hands of B’nei Kehat; the beautiful tapestries, suggesting the ohr makif, were in the hands of B’nei Gershon; B’nei Merari were left to carry the heavy beams which were hardly seen, since the tapestries hid them from the sight of anyone standing outside the Mishkan. Only the few Kohanim who entered the Mishkan to perform their tasks with the vessels carried by B’nei Kehat could see the beams that B’nei Merari bore with the sweat of their brow.

The beams, however, were the foundation of the Mishkan; upon them, everything stood.

B’nei Merari represents all those seemingly unpretentious people who, in truth, are the foundation of the world. They are willing to do the tough, dirty work – to stand against all the detractors. Other’s reap all the glory, but without B’nei Merari, nothing would exist. Concerning such people, it is said: “For evildoers will be cut off, but those hoping in Hashem will inherit the land…But the humble will inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace
” (Psalms 37:9-11).

Three Types of Jews in the Synagogue

The Kehat’im are indicative of people who are able to pray with total concentration, paying attention to every single word they say; they also are the ones who set the pathway in determining halakha. The Gershon’im are those who pray with great emotion – they sing with yearning and devotion, and among them number the deep-thinkers and followers of HassidutB’nei Merari, on the other hand, find it difficult to concentrate on every single word of their prayers; even the melodies don’t stir them that much. Nevertheless, they show-up to synagogue day-in and day-out, reciting all the required prayers. Sometimes they find it extremely difficult; their thoughts wander in all directions, and they fail to concentrate on their prayers. But they fulfill their duty, and say all the words of the prayers devotedly. They are the foundations of the world.

When synagogue dues must be paid – they pay. When the synagogue needs to be cleaned – they offer to do it. When prayer books need to be returned to their place, and chairs need arranging – they come forward. If a volunteer is needed to prepare tea for those learning in the evenings – they will prepare the tea. If someone needs to wake up early to open the synagogue – they will agree. On the surface, they appear simple; but in the Upper Worlds, they are highly esteemed (Pesachim 50a). There, the true level of these people is well-known, for upon them, the world exists. They express the emunah (faith) rooted beyond all the profound comprehensions of B’nei Kehat, and beyond all the emotions of B’nei Gershon.

These three types of people can be found in every society, company, family, and community. The Kehat-type people define the core, the Gershon-types, the aspirations for what is beyond obtainable, and the Merari-type people bear the burden of the entire system on their own shoulders; without them, the system would collapse.

Every Person Has These Three Features

To a certain extent, each person embodies these three features. Every so often, one is able to gain understanding of something significant, resulting in a feeling of contentment – in the sense of Kehat; occasionally, one experiences an emotional awakening, and is flooded with feelings of bliss, in the sense of Gershon. But most of the time, one has to be like Merari – doing the hard and arduous work. While doing so, one does not feel a sense of happiness. However, in the long term, a person receives the greatest satisfaction and joy precisely from the hard and demanding work.

On occasion, a person runs out of strength of being a Merari; his back becomes bent out of shape with age, and he begins to go downhill. If he does not pull himself together – he will collapse, and pass away. Without pillars, even the most important and sacred tabernacle collapses.

Three Sides of Childcare

Every mother taking care of her children definitely has moments of deep understanding with her children, in the sense of Kehat, and then there are also magical, emotional moments, in the sense of Gershon. But most of the time, caring for them is routine and demanding, devoid of understanding, or exceptional emotions, in the sense of Merari. However, without this type of care, the children will grow up wild, and all their parents’ deep understandings and emotions will not be of any help – the children will hate their parents, and themselves. The devoted care of a mother who takes attends to her children’s needs, and raises them to be good people, expresses her unending love for them. This is what the children never forget; this is what they cling to in difficult moments in their lives – even in their old age; and this is where they draw strength and emuna (faith).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and informative articles can be found at:

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