SALT - Tuesday, 23 Iyar 5776, Omer 38 - May 31, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            In the final verse of Parashat Bamidbar, God warns the members of the Kehat family of Leviyim, who were assigned the role of transporting the sacred articles of the Mishkan when the nation traveled, not to see “ke-vala et ha-kodesh.”  Rashi explains this warning to mean that the Kehatites must not look on as the kohanim placed the sacred articles of the Mishkan into their bags in preparation for travel.  The Kehatites were to arrive to begin transporting these articles only after they were in their bags, rather than coming earlier and watching the process of packing them.  This is also the view of the Yerei’im, who listed as one of the 613 Biblical commands the prohibition against watching as the sacred articles of the Mishkan are packed in their bags (352).

            Ibn Ezra explains differently, claiming that God warns the Kehatites not to see the aron after the parokhet (curtain) was taken down.  The aron was normally kept concealed behind the parokhet, and it would be disrespectful to view the ark in its unusual state of exposure.

            According to both explanations, the Torah speaks here of the fact that as the Mishkan and its furnishings were being prepared for travel, they were in an “embarrassed” state.  The ark is usually hidden behind the parokhet, which served to preserve its mystique and the aura of reverence surrounding it, and the altars, menorah and shulchan were normally in their assigned places ready to be used for their unique, sacred functions.  As the nation prepared for travel, suddenly, these sacred articles were – outwardly – reduced to “luggage.”  They were packed in bags much like the people likely packed their personal belongings in bags in preparation for travel.  They no longer appeared sacred; they looked like ordinary objects ready to be shipped.  The Torah therefore forbade looking upon them in this state, until they were covered and invisible, to ensure that their unique status would not be undermined, and that people would continue looking at them with awe and reverence.

            This warning can and should be applied to the way we relate to other people, as well.  All people have embarrassing moments and qualities, aspects of their lives and their personalities of which they feel ashamed.  Just as we are forbidden from looking on “ke-vala et ha-kodesh,” when the sacred articles of the Mishkan are in a state of disgrace, similarly, we must not focus our attention on the unflattering flaws and deficiencies of our fellow.  And just as God wanted us to see the Mishkan and its furnishings in its state of sanctity, with every article in its designated place serving its sublime function, we are to look for what is sacred and special about each person, the unique contribution he or she makes to us and to the world.  Human nature is such that we are easily drawn, by curiosity or the need to feel superior, to look “ke-vala et ha-kodesh,” to find the unbecoming qualities of the sacred people around us, to magnify their mistakes and their character flaws.  But the human soul is even more sacred than the aron and the other furnishings of the Mishkan, and so as with these sacred articles, we must view people with our attention focused upon their unique stature, upon their admirable qualities and special achievements.  While certainly all people are flawed and far from perfect, we are to try, as much as possible, to magnify the noble and unique qualities of all people and treat them as the beloved children of the Almighty.