In this week’s Torah portion, Behaalotcha, (Numbers 8:24) God talks to Moses about the service of the Tabernacle, which is to be performed by the Levites, “From twenty-five years of age up they shall participate in the workforce in the service of the Tent of Meeting but at the age of fifty they shall retire from the workforce and shall serve no more.”
The commentators were interested in reconciliation of this verse with the passage in Numbers 4:23, where the beginning of the active duty of the Levites is marked as the thirty years of age. The consensus is that the first five years were meant to be spent in learning and apprenticeship and only after that the Levite was ready to enter the service.
In the course of my professional life, I have seen numerous young people entering the workforce, For many years the societal demand spelled out very clear rules for the young worker. If you don’t perform well from the very beginning, you are out. If you dare to ask for help and guidance, you are weak. If you managed to stay you have to toil relentlessly until you die at your desk. Early retirement was unheard of.
Thankfully, the work ethics is slowly changing, bringing us back to the Torah values, Granted, the Levites were specially designated for their task and provided for thus they could afford to retire early. However, we have rethought our approach to work ethics, stressing the importance of the onboarding process, the learning, and apprenticeship time which is essential in developing the skilled worker.