We all felt a sense of relief when ceasefire was declared this past Thursday. For eleven days we were on edge constantly thinking about the welfare of our brothers and sisters in Israel. As anti-Israel protests intensified around the world, our worries spread beyond the residents of Israel. Now, we are all hopeful that this conflict is behind us and are looking towards a calmer and more peaceful atmosphere ahead.
This experience and the heart wrenching Meron tragedy that occurred only a few short weeks ago have aroused our emotions and cued us in to the challenges and suffering of others. We find this important trait in this week’s parsha.
This week’s parsha, Nasso, opens with the completion of a topic that began in the end of last week’s parsha, that of the special duties of the tribe of Levi when the Jewish people would travel through the wilderness. Levi was responsible to dismantle and transport the Mishkan every time the Jewish camp picked up to move further through the desert. The tribe of Levi was divided into three families and each family was assigned a different portion of the Mishkan to transport. The family of Kehas carried the holy vessels, the family of Gershon the many curtains and draperies, and Merari the beams that comprised the walls the silver sockets etc. What did the tribe of Levi do to deserve this very special honor of carrying Hashem’s dwelling place on earth every time the Jewish camp would relocate?
I once heard a powerful idea from Rabbi Shraga Neuberger, of Ner Israel Baltimore. Rabbi Neuberger quoted the Shelah who explains the origin of the names of the three families of Levi, Kehas, Gershon, and Merari. He notes that Levi was the one tribe that was exempt from slave labor of Egypt. Levi could have taken advantage of his exemption and enjoyed a luxurious worry-free life. However, Levi deeply felt the pain and suffering of his fellow Jews. So much so, that the Shelah explains that Levi gave his three children names that alluded to the pain and sorrow of the Jewish people. Kehas is derived from “kehah”, their teeth were blunted, Gershon because the Jews were treated as “gerim” strangers, Merari from the word “mar” bitter. Chazal, our sages, describe this as “nosei b’ol im chaveiru”, to bear the burden together with one’s fellow. Chazal, in their awesome wisdom, understood that empathy is not simply feeling bad for someone else; rather, it is sharing in their burden, lightening their load.
Rabbi Neuberger explained that they were not only sharing the burden placed on the Jewish people, but they were also sharing the “burden” of Hashem. Whenever the Jewish people suffers, Hashem suffers with us, and whenever we rejoice Hashem rejoices with us. When Levi lightened the load on the Jewish people, they lightened the load on Hashem as well. Midah k’neged midah, measure for measure, Levi was rewarded with the honor of being the one tribe that would carry Hashem’s load. Levi was the one tribe who would carry the Mishkan, Hashem’s special dwelling place through the wilderness.
It should not take Hamas rockets to wake us up, to rouse our feelings of concern for our fellow Jew. Now that hopefully the most recent conflict in the Middle East is behind us, we should not allow ourselves to slip back into an unknowing uncaring lifestyle. There are always others who need help, who are suffering and struggling. Whether we have a solution to offer or not, our hearts need to remain open, to feel their pain and share their burden. We learn from Levi that when we lighten the load of our fellow Jew, we are also lightening the load of Hashem Himself, and when we rise to this level, Hashem offers us many opportunities to carry His load in the most amazing ways.