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Assigning the Holy Tasks

Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89 )

by Rabbi Ozer Alport

In dividing the tasks among the Levites, why were the most holy tasks - the responsibility for the Ark, Menorah, and Altars - assigned to the descendants of Kehas (4:1-20) and not to the children of Gershon, who was the oldest of Levi's children?

Rabbi Shloma Margolis (Darkei HaShleimus) writes that the Torah is teaching us that it is incorrect to view certain actions as more important and others as less valuable. The assumption that it is more precious to God to carry the vessels of the Tabernacle (Mishkan), which Kehas did, than to transport the external curtains and coverings, as Gershon did, is a mistake. In reality, all forms of serving God are equally important if performed for the sake of Heaven.

He adds that the yeshiva in Kelm emphasized this concept by assigning the various cleaning tasks to the students, with the most senior students meriting the "lofty" position of cleaning the floors, which was intentionally done to teach them that there is no such thing as a degrading mitzvah.

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In the Haftorah (Judges 13:8, 13), after an angel appeared to the heretofore barren wife of Manoach to inform her that she would give birth to a son and to instruct her to raise the child as a nazir, she proceeded to relate the good news to her husband. Manoach requested that God send the angel back to instruct him how to raise his future son. The angel returned and reiterated to Manoach the pertinent laws of a nazir, which seemed to satisfy him.

This episode is difficult to understand. As Manoach's wife had already informed him of the angel's instructions regarding the nazirite status of their future son, what room was there for confusion? The laws governing the conduct of a nazir are clearly outlined in the Torah. Further, upon coming back, the angel simply repeated what Manoach had already heard from his wife without adding any new information. In what way was the angel's return helpful?

The following humorous story will help us appreciate the answer to these questions. Rabbi Pesach Krohn tells of a teacher who caught one of his students stealing pencils from the other children. After reprimanding him, the behavior continued. Finally, after the student ignored repeated warnings from the teacher, he had no choice but to call the boy's parents to discuss the issue. Much to the teacher's surprise, after listening to the problem the boy's father revealed the true source of the behavior by exclaiming, "Why in the world would he need to steal pencils!? I bring home more than enough from the office to supply the entire class!"

In light of this amusing lesson about the power of parents teaching by example, we can now appreciate the answer given by Rabbi Shimon Schwab to our original questions. He explains that Manoach's confusion wasn't related to the laws pertaining to his future son, which he could learn himself. His dilemma was of an educational nature. After hearing that his son would be a nazir, unique and different from his peers, Manoach was unsure how to properly raise a son who would have no role model from whom he could learn the behavior expected of him.

In response to Manoach's query, the angel came back to give him the requested guidance. The angel acknowledged that his question was quite valid, and instructed him that the proper way to raise such a son was to give him an adult nazir as a role model - by Manoach becoming a nazir himself! The angel's instructions to Manoach can be read, "Everything which I instructed your wife (regarding your future son), teshmor - you should observe" by becoming a nazir. The lesson to be derived from this beautiful explanation is that the only successful way to educate children is for the parents to serve as living role models of the values and priorities they wish to impart to them.

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More than 60 years ago, a man and his young daughter entered a yeshiva in Jerusalem and announced that they had just arrived from the city of Ostrovtza in Europe. The men gathered there knew that the Ostrovtzer Rebbe was a world-renowned miracle-worker and asked the man if he could share with them a story.

The man replied that he himself had been the beneficiary of one of the Rebbe's miracles, as his wife had given birth to several children, all of whom died shortly after birth. In despair, he approached the Rebbe for a blessing. The Rebbe advised him to name his next child based on a person mentioned in the parsha to be read the week of the child's birth. The man concluded by pointing to the living girl at his side as proof of the Rebbe's powers, and noted that she was born during the week of Parshas Nasso. However, a quick perusal of Parshas Nasso, or even an in-depth one, will reveal a big problem with following the Rebbe's advice: there are no women mentioned anywhere in the entire parsha. Armed with this dilemma, the man returned to the Rebbe, who suggested that although there no women appear in the parsha itself, the Haftorah indeed contains a bona-fide woman: Manoach's wife, the mother of Shimshon.

However, a study of the verses discussing her life reveals another problem: her name isn't mentioned anywhere. Fortunately, the Talmud (Bava Basra 91a) comes to the rescue by teaching that her name was Tzlalponit. Although not exactly a common name, the Rebbe advised the man that giving this name to his daughter was her best hope for survival. Willing to try anything, the man named his daughter Tzlalponit, and was quite fortunate to be able to point to her as living proof of the Rebbe's powers.


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