"Take a census of the sons of Gershon, as well, according to their fathers' household, according to their family." (Bamidbar/Numbers 4:22) The Torah continues its narrative of the counting of the Levites, who were grouped by family. Last week's reading concluded with the offspring of Levi's son, Kehas, and this week opens with the family of Gershon. But Gershon was the first-born, and the Torah regularly demonstrates the need to give special honor to the first-born. Why, then, is Kehas listed prior to Gershon?
The Medrash Raba explains that with Kehas' awesome responsibility to carry
the Holy Ark came the privilege of being listed first. But this further begs
the question. Instead of foregoing the honor of the first-born for our sake
of Kehas who carried the Torah, why not let Gershon, the first-born, carry
the Holy Ark and then he can properly be honored?
Kli Yakar (Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Lunshitz; c.1550-1619; Rosh Yeshiva/Dean in
Lemberg and Rabbi in Prague; a leader of Polish Jewry) explains that of the
three sons of Levi, Kehas and his children carried the Ark containing the
two tablets of the Covenant because were the most dedicated to the study of
Torah. G-d wanted to demonstrate that those who toil in Torah need to be
honored. By counting them first, he brought attention to those who labor in
Torah and, therefore, carry the Holy Ark. Had He simply given that
responsibility to Gershon, one would conclude that the greater honor belongs
to the first-born and would not understand that extra special honor is
reserved for those who study G-d's Torah.
The Medrash explains that the verse "It (the Torah) is more precious than
pearls ("peninim" in Hebrew)" (Mishlei/Proverbs 3:15) refers to the
superiority of the crown of Torah over the crowns of Priesthood, Royalty and
the First-Born. The Medrash expounds exegetically that although the High
Priest is allowed to enter the innermost sanctum of the Temple ("lip'nim" in
Hebrew, alluded to by "peninim"), the crown of Torah is greater. Although
the Royal Crown is gold studded with pearls, the crown of Torah is greater.
Although the great significance is give the first-born, who are elsewhere
referred to as "panim", meaning "first", the crown of Torah is greater. Why?
What is the greatness of dedication to Torah learning that it surpasses
these three other honorable positions?
Kli Yakar elucidates that Torah is accessible and available to all. The
priesthood is limited to the offspring of Aaron, the first High Priest. The
royalty is limited to the offspring of Yehuda (Judah). And only one child in
any family can be the first-born. But achievement in Torah learning is in
the hands of every Jew. Thus, concludes Kli Yakar, we gain a deeper
understand why the Holy Ark was given to the younger child. Had G-d
automatically given the responsibility of carrying the Torah to the
first-born, we could have thought that the Torah was only given to the
first-born. He wanted to show us that the Torah belongs equally to every
member of our nation.
We are all busy. Very busy. Yet we know that if we were told that a fortune,
more valuable than pearls and priceless gems, was just around the corner,
waiting for us to pick it up, we would all manage to find the time, between
the career and the carpools and the shopping, to pick it up. The invaluable
gift of Torah, G-d's personally authored Guidebook to a Meaningful Life, is
here for all of us to partake. Just last week we relived the giving of the
Torah. Now is the time to grab it, study it, grow from it.