Menial job

When it comes to helping the community, every job is important, no matter how trivial it may seem. Others may not notice, but God does!

This week’s Torah portion is Nasso (Numbers 4:21 – 7:89). Nasso is actually the longest portion in the Torah! Like last week’s Torah reading, Nasso opens with some more counting (although, unlike last week, it is not the main topic of the week’s reading). Yes, lots of counting in this book of the Torah – which is why it is called “The Book of Numbers” in English.

The reading opens with the command to Moses to “also” count the family of the Gershonites – one of the Levitical tribes. A number of commentators ask: Why does the command to count the Gershonites includes the word “also?” Everyone is counted! Why are they singled out to “also” be counted?

In order to understand the answer to this question, it is important to have some background to the Levite tribe. There were three primary Levitical families: Gershon, Kehat and Merrari. Each of these Levitical families had a different job in the operation of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). For example, the family of Kehat was given the task of carrying the utensils of the Mishkan from place to place during the 40 years of wandering in the desert. Can you imagine how privileged the people of Kehat must have felt? Imagine having unrestricted access to the Menorah, the Holy Ark, the Altar, and all the other utensils.

The people of Gershon, however, were given the job of carrying the panels, boards, curtains, hooks, and all the other mundane and less important components of the Mishkan. I think in today’s “Yinglish” (a unique language made up of some kind of English/Yiddish mix), we’d call the Gershonites: schleppers. They were schleppers all right, but at least they were holy schleppers. They too were still involved in the functioning of the Mishkan, albeit, having what appeared to be a less important job.

That’s why the Torah tells Moses to count them, “also.” The word “also” means “to connect” or “to be a part of.” The Torah is telling us that we shouldn’t think any less of the Gershonites based on the job they were given in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). They were “also” a part of the operation and maintenance of the Mishkan, and without their role and contribution, there wouldn’t have been a Mishkan!

Whenever groups get together to bake matzot for Passover, everyone wants to get the job of doing the kneading, or putting the matzot into the oven. Nobody wants the job of having to clean the bowls and rolling pins! But nevertheless, without the bowls and rolling pins being properly cleaned, we would not have matza…we would have chametz (leavened bread)! Here, too, we see that every job is important!

The lesson of Gershon is a lesson for everyone. When it comes to communal work, committees, partnerships, and cooperation, there will certainly be jobs with more glory, publicity and honor. Other jobs and participants in such projects will literally be unknown. Not even a note of thanks. But who cares? God knows what’s in the heart of every person and the efforts that one makes to contribute and help others.

This is what the Torah is telling us: When helping the community, every job is important. Even if your efforts are not noted on a plaque or trophy, have no fear: they are always noted (inscribed!) on the plaques in Heaven. You are “also” important, no matter what your job is! As we say in the Shabbat prayers: “Whoever works for the benefit of the community – God is the one who will give them their reward.