This week’s d’var Torah is from Rabbi Susan Elkodsi, Rabbi at the Malverne Jewish Center, Malverne, NY, and chaplain at the last World Scout Jamboree.
All the Levites whom Moses, Aaron, and the chieftains of Israel recorded by the clans of their ancestral houses, from the age of thirty years up to the age of fifty, all who were subject to duties of service and porterage relating to the Tent of Meeting–those recorded came to 8,580. Each one was given responsibility for his service and porterage at the command of the LORD through Moses, and each was recorded as the LORD had commanded Moses. (Bamidbar 4:46-49)
I’ve often joked that “Jews don’t camp, 40 years in the desert was enough.” And here the Israelites are Ba-midbar, in the wilderness, or desert, on a huge trek on their way to the Promised Land, a campout they soon learn will last another 38 years.
In 2019, I was honored to serve as a chaplain at the World Scout Jamboree in 2019, where I saw what an enormous undertaking it was, and the tremendous amount of planning and organization that was done. Yes, there were a few glitches, but it was amazing how things managed to move so smoothly, and how many people were moved from once place to another. This involved way more logistics involved than the average troop campout, so imagine the idea of hundreds of thousands of Israelites in the wilderness doing this, but without the computers, smartphones and technology we have today.
Parshat Naso begins with instructions for the Levites of the Gershon and Merari clans who assist the kohanim with the porterage, assembly, and disassembly of the Mishkan, the sanctuary in the wilderness. I think the Mishkan might just be the first-ever Eagle project; donations needed to be solicited, all kinds of things needed to built and created out of a variety of materials, and everyone needed to participate.
Naso tells us that each of the three “troops” of Levites were responsible for different tasks, which were specifically spelled out.
We can look at parashat Naso as a huge campout or Klondike, and consider the process that we, as Scouts, go through when planning a troop, crew or other outing. Duty rosters? Check. Gear needs to be transported, tents and cooking equipment need to be set up, taken down, cleaned and stowed, and everyone has to pitch in (pun intended). God created task lists, and each of the groups had specific duties. This ensured that things were done properly, and that no one was fighting over a task, and everything followed a schedule and instructions. Each Levite learned his job, and since the period of service for a Levite was between the ages of 30 and 50, each had to pass his knowledge to and train the next generation.
In our Scouting and “regular” lives, how do we relate to an ancient text like this? What can we learn from them? Parshat Naso teaches us the importance of dividing and assigning tasks in order for projects to go smoothly, and the importance of making sure to do things properly the first time. As a youth-led organization, Scouts BSA teaches scouts to be mentors, to work together as a team, and to take pride in a job well done.
Scouts and Jews are expected to behave in ways that bring honor to themselves and the community, and both the Torah and the 12 Points of the Scout Law are the trails we follow to become strong examples to the world.
May the Supreme Scoutmaster bless you and protect you! May God deal kindly and graciously with you! May God’s face always be turned towards you, and may the Holy One of Blessing give you peace! Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Susan Elkodsi