I remember how shocked and bemused I was when I saw a big red Moishe’s Moving van for this first time. They never told me that that’s an acceptable vocation for a good Jewish boy. I soon found out that it’s hard to get a mover in New York City who isn’t a member of the tribe. But it turns out, before Jews were doctors or lawyers or bankers, the best of the best them were movers. In Bamidbar 4, the holy charge of the Levites is not singing or washing hands. It’s shlepping.
Kehat (again, the middle child), has the best job of all, the holy of holies. That means no fancy wagons for them. They must shlep by hand — ‘on their shoulder, they carry.’
The history of the wandering Jew has often been a story of packing up our belongings and moving. For most nations, that kind of wandering spelled assimilation, and the disappearance of national identity. But, from the very beginning, we were given the gift of portable sanctity, of holiness that could be brought and applied to new situations, new geographic and social realities.
It’s a daring concept, and for some, frightening. Some commentators suggest that this fear lay at the root of the spies’ behavior in this week’s Torah portion. They knew very well how to live a life of Torah in the desert. To bring the Torah into the land of Israel seemed like too radical of a change.
This was precisely the task of Kehat. It takes a religious leadership with broad shoulders to have sufficient courage, and sufficient faith in the portability of the Torah, to make it feel at home in a new reality.
Who are those leaders today?