This week we read Parsha Naso or Nasso which means “lift up” though understood in this instance to mean “count.” Yes, like what I wrote regarding the census in parsha Bemidbar last week. Naso consists of Numbers 4:21–7:89. Here is a very brief summary.
This is how Naso begins by discussing the Gershonites:
Numbers 4 (NIV)
21The Lord said to Moses, 22“Take a census also of the Gershonites by their families and clans.23Count all the men from thirty to fifty years of age who come to serve in the work at the tent of meeting.
24“This is the service of the Gershonite clans in their carrying and their other work:
Then it discusses the Merarites:
29“Count the Merarites by their clans and families. 30Count all the men from thirty to fifty years of age who come to serve in the work at the tent of meeting. 31As part of all their service at the tent, (…)
Well if you do not know the significance of the Gershonites and the Merarites, then this is all pretty mundane and boring. But since I am using it for my weekly d’var then maybe there is something interesting happening right?
It gets interesting when we read Naso in context with how Bemidmar concluded:
Numbers 4 (NIV)
1The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: 2“Take a census of the Kohathite branch of the Levites by their clans and families. 3Count all the men from thirty to fifty years of age who come to serve in the work at the tent of meeting.
4“This is the work of the Kohathites at the tent of meeting: the care of the most holy things.
Okay, so first God orders the census of the Kohathites, then the Gershonites, and then the Merarites.
Who are these folks?
They are all Levites. That is to say they are “the descendants from Levi.” Here’s the Levite family tree in the Torah:
Family Tree is from Kouchs.com
So we see that Levi had three son’s: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.
His eldest son is Gershon, so why are Kohath’s descendents the ones mentioned first and seem to have a superior status among the Levi tribes? According to standard protocol the eldest is mentioned first (and receives the greatest inheritance) and then the sons are referred to in chronological order. Merari is after mentioned last.
Is this another case of a “favorite son” who seizes the first born’s prestige?
The idea of the younger brother usurping the first born’s power is a common theme in the Torah (Isaac v. Ishmael, Jacob v. Esav, Joseph v. all his older brothers).
I think in this case it is less about specific birth order power struggle, and more about the actions of the individuals within each tribe as the tribal legacies play out in history.
Kohath happened to have his first born, Amram, marry his sister (Amram’s aunt) – Yocheved (Jachebed). Amram and Yocheved happen to have two sons, Aaron and Moses.
Though Aaron was the first born, he becomes a subordinate to his little brother Moses. And of course it is Moses who, through his actions and God’s help, leads the enslaved Hebrews out of Egypt to become the Lord’s people. Aaron, the elder, is plays servant to Moses, his little brother.
But Aaron leaves behind a legacy of priests (the Kohanim.) Moses’ sons however silently disappear from the story.
Again, this is an implicit hint that God does not approve of the first born worship that was so prevalent in the Ancient Near East and still exists in certain cultures today. What matters is how you behave, how you utilize your opportunities, and how you deal with failure as well as success (or in some instances luck.)
Like it or not, we leave an inheritance to our descendants.
Too often inheritance is only thought of as financial.
Sometimes though, it’s spiritual.
And sometimes it’s values. And values can influence in ways that neither money nor spirituality can touch.
Work ethic can be taught and ingrained in the culture of a family… and become an inheritance.
God fearing, moral behavior can be taught and ingrained in the culture of a family… and become an inheritance.
Yes, financial wealth can be left for future generations as an inheritance. But unlike money, ethics and values are far more significant and transformative for building a better person.
I am not sure what Kohath taught his son Amram, or what Amram understood different than his brothers, or if perhaps Amram just got lucky having two sons like Aaron and Moses… But there is no doubt that there was something different about Aaron and Moses as evidenced by their unique significance to God and the Jewish people. Though he may not have been directly responsible, still Kohath benefits from Moses’ and Aaron’s actions. This seems like a happy situation for all parties.
Unfortunately nothing is guaranteed. Like I said, Moses’ boys are not mentioned again until Biblical works – they basically disappear. Apparently it is difficult for a father to raise a nation as well as a family. Something is going to give.
And Aaron also lost two boys, Nadav and Avihu.
Success, power, influence, and a bold mission in life can stir up problems back home for many men. Notice how many CEOs or politicians seem to suffer through tragic family situations. It is too common a problem, men becoming so busy saving the world they neglect their home.
All this is to say, we can learn from this that how we act today and the decisions we make today can have an impact on the future in ways we cannot even imagine.
Do you think Kohath knew what would become of his legacy?
Each of us can learn to guard our thoughts, speech, and actions from doing evil and focus on doing what is good and right in the eyes of God. And thinking beyond ourselves, we should pass these values on to our legacies. In time our descendants will help create a better world through greater values, not just greater wealth.
Judaism is the legacy we have the honor to benefit from as descendants of those who escaped Mitzrayim and stood at Har Sinai. Beyond our honor, it is our responsibility to perpetuate Judaism and all that it offers (ethics, holiness, values, etc.) to the future generations. We are not the Lord’s first people, nor are we His only people… but we are His treasured people. Let’s act like it.