Parshas Naso - Grab for the Crown

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 06/13/19

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In an odd structuring of the weekly reading, tradition has it that we record at the end of last week’s reading of Bamidar, the responsibilities that were placed upon the shoulders of the family of Kehas in the transporting of the Mishkan.

Levi had three sons, Gershon, Kehas and Merari. Each of them was entrusted with a different task during the relocation of the Mishkan during their travels. The family of Kehas was charged with carrying the various sacred vessels used during the services within it. Gershon’s family was tasked with the removal of the curtains, coverings and screen that enveloped the Mishkan, and their accessories. Lastly, Merari and his children were to bear the heavy load of the planks, bars, pillars, and sockets, their pegs and ropes, that comprised the solid structure of the Mishkan.

The division of labor incumbent on the families of Gershon and Merari, are first mentioned in this week’s reading of Naso.

Why the gap?

More intriguing is the fact that Gershon was the firstborn. Wouldn’t it have been appropriate to confer the most esteemed role of bearing the most sacred vessels upon the firstborn child rather than Kehas?

The Midrash asserts that since among these vessels was the Aron, the Holy Ark, that not only contained within it the Two Tablets, but also was rimmed with a ‘golden crown’ representing the elevated stature of the Crown of Torah that rises above all others, it is listed first despite the fact it was entrusted to the second son, Kehas, and not the firstborn, Gershon.

Most often Bamidbar is read prior to Shavuos with Naso following it. We seek to place this crown on its proper pedestal in singling it out as our ultimate goal, differentiating it from the other important, but less significant roles.

But what quality did Kehas possess that he surpassed his noble older brother in being granted this honored role?

The renowned disciple of the Kotzker Rebbe, the Avnei Nezer, popularly known as the Sochotchover, teaches that each one of these sons and their respective personalities reflect on the three categories of people and their relationship with Torah.(שם משמואל נשא)

There are those people who are so focused and mindful of their goals and relationship to G-d and Torah that they are impervious to the forces that seek to weaken their resolve. The root of the name קהת is קהה, to hinder and stunt, indicating his unswerving devotion to Torah who ‘weakens the teeth’ of the evil inclination in its efforts to deter him.

גרשון is sourced in the word גרש, to drive away, relating to those who can’t easily deflect the influence of negativity but who struggle mightily and overcome its nefarious intentions.

Finally there are those who are embittered, מררי, as in מרור, bitter herbs, who can’t always ward off the confused thoughts that penetrate their mind but are nevertheless troubled in that reality and are revolted by that infiltration, who slowly but surely purge those impurities from their souls.

Kehas was one who evidently had attained the ‘Crown of Torah’, as the Rambam so poignantly describes the character of one who is worthy of wearing it - a person whose heart inspires him... to become crowned with the crown of Torah, who will never divert his attention to other matters..., remaining vigilant in his guard and able to deter dross.

He was thus chosen and singled out for his superlative accomplishment, over his brother Gershon.

Yet Gershon and Merari remain heroes to those who must fight for their position, as well as to those who fall but still get up never submitting to defeat.

Each one of us are dealt the circumstances unique to our soul’s mission and no one may ever claim absolute supremacy of accomplishment over anyone else.

I recently came across a remarkable story that extols of the greatness of those challenged from among each of these groups.

Shimon Breitkopf, a popular chareidi journalist in Israel relates a story he recently experienced firsthand in the days between Pesach and Shavuos.

Unfortunately, his mother is battling cancer and he frequently visits her in the Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. Near the oncology unit there is a large outdoor patio where many of those enduring the challenge of their illnesses, whether patients or their relatives, seek a moment of calm amidst the storm of emotions. While taking a breather, Shimon suddenly hears someone bark out at him, “Hey parasite, how come you have so much time on your hands?” Taken aback he sees a patient hooked up to a chemo pole taking a long drag on his cigarette, sneering at him. Not interested in antagonizing him, Shimon quickly changes the topic and inquires sincerely about his health. The curmudgeon softens bemoaning his relatives who are lax in visiting him and the difficulty of conquering this disease alone. Shimon shared some of the small miracles his mother was experiencing, encouraging him to pray and never give up. Shimon introduces himself and discovers his name is Yoav. Shimon shares that he lives in Jerusalem and expresses his joy in being so privileged. Yoav becomes pensive, sitting silent for a few moments, and then blurts out, “By the way might you know which one of the forty-eight ways this day in the Omer corresponds to?” Aware of the notion that each day of the forty nine days in the counting of the Omer should be devoted to one of the forty eight ways the Torah is acquired as enumerated in Pirkei Avos, reviewing them all on the forty ninth day in preparation for receiving the Torah, he sheepishly admits he doesn’t know. Yoav exclaims, “Obviously you are not a ‘king’, but I once met a true king, who embodied them all.”

Tears began to flow as Yoav began his tale. In 1967 Yoav was in the division under the general command of Motta Gur. Most of the soldiers came from totally secular backgrounds. There was one observant kid, Achiam, who hailed from a religious kibbutz. In the weeks and days prior to the Six-Day War tension was building. The fear of war and the deaths and losses that were predicted was distressing. The officers sought out distractions in the form of entertainment to quell their nerves. One day, Achiam approaches Yoav, who was the commanding officer of this platoon, requesting if he could give a small shiur each night to enlighten the soldiers about the upcoming holiday of Shavuos. Yoav knowing the enmity towards religion he and the soldiers harbored, figured that it would be another distracting game for them in taunting the poor guy, and readily agreed. Yoav went on to describe Achiam’s opening remarks where he said it would be impossible to start teaching Torah here but at the least perhaps that can connect to the forty eight ways which are generally humanitarian principles such as loving one’s fellow man, minimizing indulgences, establishing peace and many other universal ideas. Despite the derision Achiam remained unperturbed beginning with the first way hoping to climb all forty-eight steps and obtain the ‘Crown of Torah’. The soldiers would jokingly draw a crown on Achiam’s helmet derisively coronating him as ‘King’. Each night despite the heckling, Achiam remained unfazed and picked up from the evening before, eventually drawing about five steady customers.

After the continuing onslaught of mockery Yoav describes how he confronted Achiam questioning the wisdom in becoming the local circus each night. Yoav then recalls to Shimon the exact words Achiam responded. “Yoav, we are about to enter a big war. Who knows what will be? So why are we so brave to risk our lives? The answer is because this land is ours. But who said its ours? The Torah! So, it all starts from there. So even if you don’t keep the mitzvot, but you are a Jew. But why are you a Jew? Because to Torah said so! Every Jew needs a connection, let us at least start with ‘loving justice’, ‘distancing ourselves from false honor’, or at the very least ‘establishing peace’. I’m not afraid about becoming the laughingstock because I know they aren’t really laughing about me they just fear the truth and that maybe they might be enlightened to change. In the end my friend, the message will penetrate, the message will sink in.”

Yoav goes on to retell how at that moment everything changed. He realized how much wisdom, love, sincerity and genuine concern Achiam possessed and that he was truly a king among men.

He realized how deeply he truly cherished Achiam. He decided on the spot that from that night and on everyone would attend and that he would would assure the proper decorum.

But it wasn’t to be for the next morning the war broke out.

The battles were fierce, and they were part of the greater number of troops who helped reconquer Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. He recalled how they heard over the radio the now famous tear-filled cry of Motta Gur, Har HaBayit b’yadeinu, the Temple Mount is in our hands. The emotions were great, but they were at a loss of what to do. They all instinctively turned to the ‘king’ amongst them watching him cleanse his hands from his canteen and recite on their behalf, with great emotion, the blessing of Shehechiyanu, with Achiam then exclaiming how two thousand years ago we were expelled and we are now privileged to stand on the spot where our ancestors cried out to for generations to return, realizing that remarkable dream.

In the excitement they became detached from the war only to be brutally awakened to the Jordanian snipers' bullets that found its target in Achiam. They prayed and begged of the medics to restore his life. They kept him alive and Yoav escorted him to the hospital while he underwent a grueling six-hour surgery. Afterward Achiam regained momentary consciousness turning his eyes longingly to Yoav, and in his last breaths, requesting of him to finish his mission in achieving the ‘Crown’.

To this day Yoav, despite not being observant, has committed to memory the forty-eight ways.

Yoav (ben Shoshana) wondered out loud whether he will survive his illness but asked Shimon to publicize the story so that others will be inspired to climb this magnificent ladder or at the very least connect in some small way to Torah.

Whether you are a descendant of the noble Kehas, in the image of Achiam, or of the mighty Gershon, and those soldiers who defied their cohorts in attending his class, or simply a hero like Yoav a disciple of Merari, whose pained frustration speaks volumes of the inner greatness he possesses, it is time we rise up that ladder and grab for the crown!


צבי יהודה טייכמאן