Have you ever felt that living a religious life was a heavy burden on your shoulders? If so, you’re not alone. We all feel that way sometimes. Consider this nearly-concluded week: Tuesday felt like both a Monday (coming out of a weekend) and a Friday (it was erev Yom Tov). Friday feels like a Monday too, but it’s definitely Friday, leading into a festive but hectic Shabbat!
The very first Israelites to feel the burden of religion on their shoulders were the Levites, as described in this week’s Torah portion, Naso. Some of the Levites had real schelpping responsibilities, and the components of the portable sanctuary could be heavy. But they got to load their materials on oxen-drawn carts. Most notable for their duty to bear a burden, though, were the sons of Kehat: “But to the Kohathites he did not give any [carts and oxen]; since theirs was the service of the [most] sacred objects, their porterage was by shoulder” (Numbers 7:9)
How does this picture of Levitical service mesh with some of the other roles we know they played in Temple times? Are Levi’m just glorified hand-washers for the priestly class, and protection for the kohanim in the Torah service batting order? Or perhaps they had some other sacred service that we might not think of as burdensome?
On Friday evening, I’ll share a teaching by the Gerer Rebbe, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter, about the contradictory/complimentary roles of the Levites, which may transform the way we understand the phrase “religious burden.” See you then!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,