SALT - Friday, 5 Tishrei 5779 - September 14, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            We read in Parashat Vayeilekh that Moshe completed writing the first Torah scroll, whereupon he gave it to the Leviyim and instructed them to store it alongside the ark (31:24-26).  As Rashi (31:26) cites, the Gemara in Masekhet Bava Batra (14b) brings two different views in interpreting this verse.  One opinion claims that the Torah was stored on a shelf protruding from the side of the ark, whereas the second view maintained that the Torah was actually kept inside the ark, alongside the stone tablets that Moshe brought from Mount Sinai.
            The Torah in this context refers to the Leviyim as “the Levites, carriers of the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord,” specifying the role they served in transporting the ark during travel.  On the simple level, this role is emphasized here because it is the reason why Moshe entrusted the Torah specifically to the Leviyim.  Since they were the ones who handled the ark, they were assigned the job of ensuring the Torah scroll’s storage in (or alongside) the ark.
            Rav Yehonatan Eibshitz, however, suggested a deeper reason for this emphasis.  In Sefer Bamidbar (7:9), we find the rule of “ba-kateif yisa’u,” which required the Leviyim to carry the sacred articles of the Mishkan on their shoulders.  Whereas the planks, curtains, tapestries and other components of the Mishkan were transported by wagons pulled by cattle, the ark, altars, table and menorah needed to be carried on the Leviyim’s shoulders, and not with wagons.  Rav Yehonatan Eibshitz explains (as do many others) that this halakha symbolically reflects the need for hard work and exertion to achieve success in Torah scholarship and spirituality.  There are no “shortcuts” that we can take to achieve; we need to bear the burden of hard work, like the Leviyim transporting the sacred articles of the Mishkan, without looking for a quick and easy path to excellence.
            And for this reason, Rav Yehonatan Eibshitz suggests, the Torah saw fit to emphasize that Moshe entrusted the Torah scroll to the Leviyim who transported the ark.  The ones charged with the responsibility of preserving the Torah were the ones assigned the task in the desert of transporting the ark on their shoulders, symbolizing the indispensable need for the exertion of hard work and effort in religious life.  The Torah here subtly alludes to us that the process of preserving our tradition is not easy, that we should not be discouraged by the challenges that arise, nor deterred by the effort entailed.  We must be prepared the shoulder what is often the heavy burden of Torah study and observance, and put in the work necessary to proudly carry our tradition and successfully transmit it to the next generation.