Yom Rivii, 17 Tishri 5780
Hol Hamoed Sukkot Wednesday, 16 October 2019
Parashat Naso 2014

Parashat Naso
Rabbi Janet Burden
30th May 2014

When I was· a teenager, one of my favourite places in the world was my dad’s workshop.· Tucked away in the basement of our house, it was a little corner of magic.· Hanging from the walls, in their specially made racks, was every kind of tool conceivable.· I think he had something like fifteen different types of screwdrivers.· He had drills, vice-grips, sanders and - best of all – a jigsaw.· I’ve never yet seen anyone do what my dad could do with a jigsaw.· Once I stood by, open-mouthed, while he wrote my name in carved wood script.· I thought he was a genius, and told him so. But Dad gave all the credit to the tools.· I thought this was false modesty, but he meant what he said.· He looked straight at me and said, “Don’t ever expect someone to do a job without the right tools.·

I hadn’t thought of that conversation for years, but there was no question as to what triggered the memory.· It came as I was reading the second half of our Torah portion for this week, where the text portrays Moses as distributing wagons and oxen to different parts of the tribe of Levi “according to their work.”· As leader of the community, he was making sure that those designated to transport the Tabernacle and its fittings had what were essentially “the tools of their trade.”· The image was so concrete:· the Gershonites received two wagons with their teams of oxen, whereas Merari received four and Kehat none.· It took me aback a bit.· Why would a holy text concern itself with such details?

I think the answer to that lay precisely in the apparent inequity of the distribution.· One might have expected that the wagons and oxen would have been divided equally among the Levites.· After all, isn’t that what we always expect in families?· If one child gets something, the others must have that exact same thing, or chaos is loosed upon the world.· Sound familiar?· And we all know that it doesn’t matter whether the item is appropriate, or even - deep down - really wanted.· What is important is that our equal worth is recognised. I certainly remember that dynamic when I was still living at home.· My parents sweated buckets to ensure that neither my sister nor I could accuse them of favouritism.· Looking back, I have to say they did a pretty good job.· Yet I sometimes wonder if, by doing so, we all missed the opportunity to learn a very important lesson - the lesson that is implied in this week’s parashah.

Our Torah text makes it quite clear that the value of each group’s work was NOT reflected by the number of wagons and oxen they were given.· In fact, it was the group which received nothing at all who were called upon to do the holiest service.· They carried the things that were too precious to be chucked in a wagon, and instead had to be carefully transported on their shoulders.· They simply didn’t need the tools that Moses was distributing.· Their task was different, requiring only that they give their burden meticulous attention and use their own strength.· Differences were recognised between the various groups of individuals - and between their tasks in life.· The important thing was not that the distribution should be scrupulously equal, it was rather that they should all have the tools to do the job.

Synagogue structures are not (or at least I hope they are not!) as rigidly hierarchical as the work involved in the transportation and maintenance of the Tabernacle.· Nonetheless, the idea that one needs to have the means to carry out a job remains, as does the notion that resources have to be allocated appropriately for the task at hand.· Managing resources (both human and financial) to give employees and volunteers the tools to achieve the community’s common goals is what Synagogue Councils do – and it can be hard work.

Fortunately, our communities are now in a position to make limited resources go much further.· In the past, I think we have expected a great deal of individual members without giving them the proper tools to get the job done.· That is why I am keen for us all to contribute materials to Liberal Judaism’s Resource Bank.· If you haven’t checked it out yet, please don’t think it is just lesson plans for running a religion school.· We are building a wonderful ‘Tool Shed’ for community building.

Of course, some of our larger and more established congregations may be in a position to contribute more – but their contribution won’t necessarily be of greater worth.· Your community may hold the key to a problem with which someone else is struggling. Let’s help each other to carry the load, and share collectively in the blessing.