April 19, 2024
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April 19, 2024
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Rav Shimshon Pincus, zt”l, once related an extraordinary encounter he had with a granddaughter of the holy Chafetz Chaim, zt”l. She was already an elderly woman, had recently emigrated from Russia, and was temporarily staying in a merkaz klitah, absorption center, for new olim in the southern Israeli city of Be’er Sheva.

Soon after World War I, she had left home as an idealistic teenager to attend university and was studying science and technology when she returned to Radin to visit her grandfather for the last time. With great emotion, the woman recalled the final conversation she had with her saintly grandfather:

“‘Zeide,’ I asked, ‘why do you sit here all day in the finsternish of the shtetl, in the darkness of our small town? There is a big bright world out there of enlightenment and technological advancement. Just look outside! There are airplanes in the sky and no limits to where mankind can advance!’”

“For a few moments, my holy grandfather gazed out of the window of his tiny study in his simple home in Radin, then looked at me intently and answered me with both love and fiery conviction: ‘One day, zei, they, with their enlightened technology will build airplanes and drop bombs that can destroy the entire world. Ubber mir machen mentchen—but in here,’ he said, placing his hand on the wall of that holy room, ‘we are building people! Darling, do you hear? With Torah, mir machen mentchen … ’”

~
נָשׂא אֶת־רֹאשׁ בְּנֵי גֵרְשׁוֹן גַּם־הֵם לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם׃

“Take a census of the sons of Gershon, of them too, following their fathers’ houses, according to their families (Bamidbar, 4:22).”

The descendants of Gershon—the eldest of the sons of Levi—were charged with the care of the outer Mishkan including the tent and its covering, doors and hangings. Rashi explains the straightforward peshat of our pasuk’s instruction: following the counting of Bnei Kehas, the Torah instructs all of those Bnei Gershon who are able to perform the service of the Mishkan to be counted.

Different terminology is used throughout Torah to describe “counting:” pekidah, Sefirah and also the term that is the name of our sedra, “Nasso,” which literally means “lifting up.” Our sedra is read on the Shabbos following Shavuos. Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, notes that every man, woman and child was present at Har Sinai, and each one of us experienced revelation. At Sinai, we became “lifted up” or “elevated.” After the chag of Shavuos, too, we are different people. It follows the reason that we are “counted” again this week, after we have received the Torah; Matan Torah has filled us with a renewed awareness that every one of us counts. We have come to believe in our potential for growth and ascension. The power of Torah has “built us up.”

The students of the Baal Shem Tov point out that the particular avodah assigned to Bnei Gershon on the outer elements of the Mishkan represents individuals who are “on the outs.” Those among us who have traveled some distance away from their spiritual home-base and tradition, can feel מגורשים, or “foreign” to their their identity and roots. This resonates with the meaning of the name “Gershon” itself: “a sojourner there.”

Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, explains, however, that even those who see themselves as “Bnei Gershon” are too, included in the census, and are lifted up by being counted “following their fathers’ houses, according to their families.” Even those who have strayed and drifted away to sojourn in “foreign” territory, לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם—remain essentially connected to the Avos, to their whole ancestral line and to the collective family of Israel.

May we be inspired by the reverberations of z’man Matan Toraseinu, and may we be counted among the mentchen who are aware of the power of our holy Torah to uplift and build us—no matter where we have sojourned.


Rav Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He is the mashpiah of OU-NCSY, founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of “Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva.” Rav Judah lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife Ora and their family.

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