Naso

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

G‑d spoke to Moses saying: Take a census of the sons of Gerhson, as well, according to their father's household, according to their families. From thirty years of age and up, until fifty years of age shall you count them, everyone who comes to join the legion to perform work in the tent of meeting.

The Torah then continues delineating the particular work of the family of Gershon, which was the carrying of the various vessels and parts of the Tabernacle.

Rabbi Moses Feinstein zt"l, the foremost Halachic authority of the twentieth century in America, questions why it was necessary to limit the work of the tribe of Gershon to those in the thirty to fifty age range. He rightly points out that the Holy vessels they would be required to transport did not weigh all that much allowing for even children or seniors to participate in this work. Why then does the Torah limit this sacred activity to those in the thirty to fifty range?

To answer this question, R' Moshe refers us to the Torah commentary Daas Zkanim, continuing that he who wishes to fulfill a Mitzvah of the Torah whether it be the erection of a Succah or fully understanding a concept of the Torah truly fulfills it when he calls upon all his strength to accomplish his task. While it is true that a Mitzvah or Torah study can be accomplished with simple effort, it is accomplished in all its ramifications only when the individual expends concerted effort. And while through Divine intervention the vessels of the Tabernacle were made to be easily carried even by a child or a senior, they nevertheless were to be carried by only those who were Bnai Koach, those of potential strength.

It is obvious that the concept of strength here applied refers to a fuller and deeper understanding of the task. For the members of the family of Gershon this meant a full awareness of the Sacredness and purpose of the vessels that were placed in their charge. Comprehending their deeper meaning in the service of G-d, imbued with a sense of idealism and zeal, these individuals fulfilled their Holy charge in all its aspects.

It is the idealism and zeal of the informed adult that is essential for the future vitality of the Jewish People. Children, uneducated, lacking the depth of thought to fulfill an involved and important task, seniors whose days of vitality and idealism have passed are simply unfit for the task at hand. Only those between the ages of thirty and fifty are potentially able to provide the strength and dedication necessary for the vitality of Jewish life and the future of our People.

I, as most Jews, am not a product of the Day School movement. Talmud Torah, the Cheder was the venue in which I received my Jewish education. The curriculum consisted of reading and writing Hebrew, some knowledge of the prayer service, an introduction to Jewish religious rites, and Bible stories - this curriculum constitutes the education of the average Jew. And when does one "graduate" from this school of "higher learning"? You know the answer - Bar and Bat Mitzvah are the "graduating ceremony."

For most Jews, our history as they know it consists of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, Joseph, Moses and, to some extent, Joshua and then, somehow, the clock of history goes into overdrive and it is 1948 and the declaration of the modern State of Israel. Oh they may have heard of Maimonides but they would be hard put to tell you of his work and texts, let alone the time during which he lived. They as well may have heard of the famed French commentator Rashi whose insights are found in every Chumash, yet because of their inability to comprehend Hebrew, his genius is closed to them. Even with the availability of English translations of so many of our Sacred texts and the hundreds of Rabbinical commentaries written over the ages, our history and legacy, it is but a small number of Jews who, in adulthood, make the effort to learn beyond their education in the Synagogue afternoon school.

As an individual reaches his/her teens the world begins to present questions in all aspects of life. Their Jewish education, unlike their secular one and the "education" of life experience itself lies dormant in their pre-adolescence. They present an ever-growing sense of the irrelevance of their "Jewish education." They seek their answers to life in other venues. Judaism becomes totally irrelevant to them.

I am reminded of a communal meeting I attended years ago at which the Chairman announced he had just returned from his twentieth visit to Israel. "I learned a phrase in Hebrew," he stated excitedly, "B-bo-ker T-Tov" he said in a stammering voice. I offered him my congratulations but reminded him how easily Boca Raton rolled off his tongue in comparison to his stammering rendition of boker tov - good morning in Hebrew.

When our young Jews reach the age of adulthood, when they have established themselves and are able to make the commitment that Jewish leadership requires, the potentiality to be Bnai Koach, people of strength able to be committed Jews, able to serve as true Jewish leaders of our community, it becomes evident that their childish and sorely lacking "Jewish education" has not given them the essential tools to live Jewishly, and worse, in many instances, has literally turned them off to our Jewish way of life.

The answer is obvious. Formal Jewish education geared to our teens and post teens providing not only the hows of Jewish life but the whys as well is essential. Today, all of Jewry recognizes that for us to depend upon a child's few hours in an afternoon school to equip that child to live and act Jewishly in the Jewish and general communities is absurd! Jewish education must keep pace with the growth of our young. To complete ones Doctorate in secular education and yet rely upon a kindergarten education in Judaism just doesn't work. It is in great measure responsible for the ever-depleting numbers of American Jews resulting in rampant assimilation and inter-marriage.

And here I would like to add one further comment. It is essential for us to present to our young the theology of Judaism and its worldview. For today, if they ask about Judaism, they ask in the why not in the how. That is to say they want to know why bother with Judaism. After all, the values of charity, human dignity etc, are part and parcel of America. Why bother being Jewish? From my experience in almost forty years in the Rabbinate young people rarely begin their re-introduction to Judaism asking how to practice; as for example, how to keep Kosher. The question is why practice.

We need these Bnai Koach, these young adults, to shoulder the "tabernacle" of our people, to be willing to carry the "Holy vessels" of our Faith and history with every ounce of their idealism and zeal. We can settle for no less.