Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller
Parshas Nasso begins with a census of the three branches of the tribe of Levi. This count focuses on those who are of age to serve in the transport of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) as the Jewish people made their way through the desert. When the passuk reaches the count of the third family of Levi, M’rori, it states, “You shall name them as they are charged with their task of carrying.” The Ramban notes that this command to name the members of the family does not appear when the Torah speaks of Gershon and Kehos, the other two families. He suggests that since M’rori were responsible to carry the heaviest components of the Mishkan, they had to be singled out and named specifically to assure that they didn’t avoid the task. (Their job was to transport the wall boards which weighed about 900 lb. each and were about 30 feet long.)
Rabbi Shimon Schwab (Rav in Baltimore and Washington Heights, NY 1908-1995) suggests another explanation. The Leviim’s task of carrying the Mishkan was a symbol of the work which is required of our public servants. Some provide spiritual needs and others provide material support. The boards of the Mishkan represent the structure that held and sheltered the hallowed vessels. M’rori, therefore, represents the laity that sustains the community’s spiritual activities with their material support. They needed a special “shout-out” to highlight that they are a critical part of the communal infrastructure.
Rav Schwab notes that when Moshe Rabbeinu blessed the tribes of Yissachor and Zevulun, he praises Zevulun first as he is the merchant that travels the seas to provide for the upkeep of the scholars in the tribe of Yissachor who “sit in the tent.” Without the sacrifice and devotion of the supporters of Torah, Torah cannot exist.
We are living in a time that the laity is as important as ever. Our institutions of learning and spirit have had to pivot and offer their services in a different way and the rapid change has bewildered many of us. Behind this array of services are selfless lay people and school leaders who work tirelessly to support the institutions both materially and with hard work to assure that we emerge from this situation better, wiser and stronger.