5767 - #27


Bamidbar 4:20 informs us that the Bnei Kehat, the family of Kehat who were the Levi’im entrusted with transporting the holiest vessels of the Mishkan, were not allowed to watch as the Kohanim covered these vessels in preparation for the move. This translation is pursuant to Rashis understanding of the verse. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch states that the Kehites were not allowed to look as the vessels were being completely wrapped up but, in effect, he is referring to the same procedure as Rashi. Both are referring to the activity that was to be undertaken by the Kohanim as described in Bamidbar 4:5-14. When the Mishkan had to be moved, it was the Bnei Kehat who were entrusted with actually transporting the holiest of items, yet it was the Kohanim who were entrusted with packing the vessels for transport. What Bamidbar 4:20 is informing us is that the Kehites were not allowed to watch the packing. Rabbi J.H. Hertz, though, sees the prohibition on the Kehites in somewhat of a different fashion. Indeed, it was the Kohanim who were entrusted with the preparations necessary to move the holy articles of the Mishkan but it wasn’t exactly the packing that the Bnei Kehat could not see. It was specifically the dismantling of the Mishkan that the Kehites could not watch1 “as they would lose all reverence for the Sanctuary if they were to witness it.”

             Rabbi Hertz presents a most significant insight into the search for truth. While we are called upon to investigate reality, and determine proper behaviour according to this investigation and the facts that we uncover, this very same search can also yield some negative consequences. Sometimes certain emotions, such as reverence, are often only maintained with the avoidance of certain truths. The Kehites could only maintain a proper reverence towards the Mishkan and its holy vessels if they never saw them being dis-assembled and in parts. Many statements within Torah present the same message. Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah 5:6 states that a talmid, a student, cannot enter the bathhouse with his rebbi, his teacher. As Rashi, T.B. Pesachim 51a, d.h. talmid explains, washing with one’s teacher would lessen the proper emotions of reverence due the teacher.2 My wife also reminded me of the famous words of T.B. Sanhedrin 39a that explains why God put Adam to sleep when he took a rib from Adam to create Chava.3 If Adam was awake during this procedure, and saw what happened, he would have had feelings of repulsion toward Chava. Sometimes, indeed, a certain perception within reality demands of us to ignore what is also a part of reality. Yet, this idea can also be taken to an improper extreme and, even as we may recognize merit in this perspective, we must also recognize its limitations and its need for balance.

             Many years ago, someone asked for my opinion in regard to a tape on how to have a successful marriage. One of the suggestions, on the tape, for ensuring a good marriage was that a wife should always wake up one half hour before her husband so that she is properly groomed before her husband sees her. The continued message was that a wife should ensure that her husband never sees her without makeup. In a certain way, this suggestion would seem to follow from the above lesson; the secret to a good marriage would seem to be maintaining the mythology that ensures only the most positive of emotions and the avoidance of any reality that may challenge such emotions. Yet, would such a marriage actually be a good marriage? Should we not expect, in a good marriage, the ability to maintain positive emotions even if the wife does not have her makeup on? What do we think of a love that is dependent on makeup? What do we think of a reverence that is dependent on never seeing the object of reverence in a certain state? Indeed love and reverence are different emotions and may demand different parameters for their proper expression but, nonetheless, the essence of the question still remains. We maintain certain visions within reality by directing our sight in a certain, focused manner. How honest are these visions of reality? When is it proper to maintain this focus and when is this focus simply an attempt to maintain an illusion?  When, in fact, does this focus actually prevent the development of a stronger and deeper emotion?

             Of course, as evidenced by the sources presented above, there is some truth to the assertion that we must, at times, direct our focus, avoid the potential for the negative and foster the development of a certain reality by ignoring other aspects of reality. A wife who asserts that ‘she never wears makeup because her husband loves her anyway and the wearing of makeup would only cheapen their love’ is also grossly mistaken. We do need to focus our lens on reality to foster a proper connection to reality. Yet, we must still also see the broader perspective of reality. While the Kehites were not to watch the dismantling of the Mishkan, the Kohanim, those who performed the holiest functions in the Mishkan, were the ones who disassembled it. Should we not have been more concerned about maintaining their reverence even more so than the reverence of the Bnei Kehat? The kohanim, through their dress and behaviour, understood the need to focus the human emotion and create the reality that would yield the proper framework for the human being to ascend higher. Yet, in entrusting them with the task of preparing the Mishkan for transport, the Torah would seem to be informing us, as well, that, to truly reach the heights, one must also see the reverence in the totality of reality. As God did when He created Chava, it is important to create the situation that ensures the development of the proper emotions and the avoidance of the negative. Yet our goal must go beyond this. We must also continue to strive to ensure the existence of proper emotions even in the face of the potential negative effect of the totality of reality and existence. The gemora further states that if the rebbi needs the talmid’s assistance in the bathhouse, the talmid is permitted to join the rebbi in the bathhouse. This is not because we permit a drop in reverence due to the rebbi’s need. Sometimes we are to create situations that foster the desired, proper emotion. Sometimes, though, we are to call upon our strength and commitment to the value of this proper emotion so that it defines the situation.   .

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail


1 Support for Rabbi Hertz’s assertion is actually found in the words of Ibn Ezra and Ramban.

2 See, also, the further discussion in T.B. Pesachim 51a in regard to not bathing with one’s father, father-in-law, mother’s husband or sister’s husband. See, further, Rashi, d.h. m’aviv. In regard to this whole discussion, one should see, however, Kesef Mishna, Hilchot Talmud Torah 5:6.

3 Bereishit 2:21.

8 Specific mention is made of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai as his being is also intertwined with the Roman attempt to limit Torah and his yahrzeit is marked on Lag B’Omer.

9 Is it not interesting that the omer period today is also a time in which many further mark a return to the land?

Nishma, 2007

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