And to the sons of Kehat he did not give (any of the donated wagons); since the sacred service was upon them, they carried on the shoulder. (Bamidbar 7:9)
The righteous mother of the Chiddushei HaRim used to carry bundles of wood on her back to bring them to the poor families in her village. When her son, the brother of the Chiddushei HaRim, heard about her conduct, he approached her and proposed to hire a gentile worker to assist her on her deliveries. The worker would carry the loads to wherever she would direct him, while the cost would be minimal for her well-to-do son.
“Shall I give my mitzvah to a non-Jew and also pay him to do it as well?” she objected. She stubbornly continued to deliver her gifts to the poor of the town on her hunched-over back.
In our parashah, Moshe Rabbeinu gave the Leviim wagons so that they could transport the materials and utensils of the Mishkan from place to place in their travels. The families of Gershom and Merari received a share of the wagons but the family of Kehat did not get any at all. The Torah explains, “since the sacred service was upon them, they carried on the shoulder” (Bamidbar 7:9). The family of Kehat was responsible to transport the holiest vessels, including the Table, Menorah, Mizbei’ach and Aron. Moshe informed them that these special items should not be carried by an animal-drawn wagon but rather on the shoulders of the Leviim.
When a mitzvah opportunity occurs, we begin to make calculations as to the nature of the task and whether it is appropriate for us to carry it out. Perhaps this type of mitzvah is beneath the dignity of one’s stature. Maybe it is best to pass the deed on to another to perform. Many reasons come to mind as to why the opportunity is just not suitable at the present time. Such thoughts produce basketsful of missed chances for spiritual achievement.
There was once a young Rabbi who studied Torah for a full day in a local kollel. Unlike many others in his yeshivah, it didn’t come easy. This young man had been working in a business and studying Torah early mornings and in the evenings after work. With the support of his wife he made the leap from “working man” to full-time kollel member. His life was moving forward according to plan and he and his spouse were growing in all spiritual areas together. He felt like one who had achieved his goal.
Suddenly, he got the unfortunate news that his son had been diagnosed with a life-threatening disease which required extensive hospital treatment. His regular routine was interrupted and replaced with nights and days at his son’s bedside. He kept a close eye on his son and jumped to serve every need or whim. At night he would do what nurses and attendants do to keep patients clean and comfortable. Much of his work could be called “dirty work.”
One day his Rosh Yeshivah came to visit and encourage the patient and the caregiver as well.
“I can’t believe what I am doing every day and night,” the man said. “I went from learning wholeheartedly to changing diapers and changing sheets.”
“Don’t despair,” the Rosh Yeshivah said. “Right now, your caregiving duties are your avodat Hashem. This is your Heavenly service to the One Above.”
The Torah is teaching us that there is no “disgrace” when serving Hashem and performing His mitzvot. On the contrary, mitzvah performance brings honor to a person. Calculations that consider personal honor or pride have the power to deter one from mitzvah performance and cause eternal missed opportunities. If the distinguished family of Kehat had considered whether the transportation of utensils on their shoulders was befitting their stature, there is a good chance they would have lost out.
When you have a chance to do a mitzvah, remember the words of our Sages: “Mitzvah habaah l’yadecha al tachmitzenah — When a mitzvah comes to your hand, don’t delay long enough for it to spoil” (Mechilta). Don’t think about it. Grab it!