Hold Your Head Up
June 10, 2022
By Rus Devorah Wallen

I’m Rus Devorah Wallen, and I’d like to share my T for 2, my Torah thought for two minutes, more or less.

This week‘s Torah portion is Naso. Last week the Torah discussed the census of the Jewish people excluding the Levites. In this week’s portion, they are counted, but with interesting words, “Naso es rosh” – literally, lift the heads. A lesson here is, that no matter how many people are in a collective, each one is unique and counts as an uplifted individual with his own gifts and traits.

In our parsha we also learn about the nazir – somebody who takes an oath with additional strictures beyond the Torah’s laws, such as not drinking wine or not becoming contaminated through contact with a dead body. Then there’s the discussion of the offerings of the tribes for inaugurating the mishkan. Even though all the inaugural sacrifices were identical, the Torah enumerates them separately.  Again, this emphasizes the importance of the identity of each tribe. In our portion the Priestly blessing of Yivarechecho is commanded to the Kohanim – “May God bless and keep you; may God shine His countenance on you and be gracious to you; may He lift His countenance upon you and grant you peace.”

Another focus in Naso is work of the Levites in transporting the mishkan through the desert.  The mishkan had to be assembled and dismantled wherever the Jews went.  The special sanctity of the ark, the table, and the candelabra remained even when all the other elements were taken apart. The sons of Kehos were given the special duty to transport these holy items called k’lei Kodesh. Since it was forbidden for them to touch the ark, it was fashioned with rings so it could be carried on poles. All  other parts of the Tabernacle were transported on wagons. The verse tells us, “The sons of Kehos he gave no wagons because the holy service belongs to them.” G-d wanted the holy vessels to be carried directly on the shoulders of b’nei Kehos with their personal responsibility. They needed to be careful not to touch the objects or place them on a lifeless wagon, or they would die. Why this strange and strict law? And if the teachings of the Torah are eternal, how is this even relevant to us today when we don’t have a mishkan or the holy vessels?

We all have jobs we perform at various stages of our lives. Some jobs are better suited for one person than another, one spouse than the other, one employee or another, one student or another, etc. Some work seems elevated and holy, some work more mundane. The holy work of raising a family and maintaining a household have various levels of kedusha – holiness. In my mind, the holiest job is that of parents, bringing children into the world, and educating them in ways of kindness, respect, and morality. Child rearing requires constant and consistent investment.  It’s like the balloon game where you need to be continuously alert to keep the ball in the air, making sure it does not touch the ground. The word for education in Hebrew is chinuch, which literally means dedication – like the word Chanukah – referring to the rededication of the Holy Temple. So, there are certain activities that we can delegate to others that don’t require our special attention or supervision or dedication. For instance, someone else can mow the lawn, trim the bushes, plow the snow, do our laundry, clean our clothes or bathrooms, etc. However, nurturing our children, literally feeding them, spending quality time with them, lying down with young children to tuck them in, etc., are important activities for parents to not farm out to a cleaning lady, babysitter, or landscaper.  Our children are the holy vessels that require our personal attention. I remember once speaking in another, far-away country.  I was hosted by a very wealthy couple there.  The wife could have summoned her chauffer to pick me up at the airport and could have had her cleaning lady get my room ready. However, much to my delight and admiration, this busy and wealthy, distinguished woman came to the airport to pick me up herself.  It was also clear that she put her own extra special touches on my sleeping accommodations. Very often there are things that could be swept aside, neglected, or left for others to do. That personal touch knocks it over the edge. Just as Hashem gave the duty and honor to the sons of Kehos to personally and lovingly, carry His special vessels, we too should carry out our honored charges personally, and with loving attention. May we have the wisdom and awareness to mindfully care for that which truly deserves our attention, uplifting those around us through it.

Rus Devorah Wallen is an accomplished musician, performer, social worker, psychotherapist, and educator.

Hold Your Head Up - Jewish thought of the week graphic