Imagine yourself as a member of the Levitical family known as the Kohathites. As we learn in this week’s parshah, Bemidbar, they are the ultimate schleppers–it is their responsibility to carry the raw materials of the Mishkan when Israel breaks camp. They put the “portable” in “portable sanctuary.” Their work is considered “avodat massa,” which unlike the removal labor performed by the priests in dismantling and reassembling the sanctuary, requires no melakhah, skill. No, the family of Kehat isn’t used for their brains, just for their brawn.
How did the Kohathites respond to their assignment?
This question serves as a backdrop to our upcoming discussion of the chapter “Between Employers and Employees” from The Observant Life (pp. 508-528) this coming Shabbat at our monthly lunch n learn. Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, the author of this chapter, notes that “to understand the nature of the employer-employee relationship as the halakhah views it, one must first endeavor to understand the value that the Torah places on work itself” (p. 511). Work of all kinds “is essential both to personal development and also to success in achieving religious depth and meaning” (512). With such an appreciation for the importance of work to both employer and employee, we might come to respect the efforts of the Kohathites as much as we revere the priests.
The rest of the chapter outlines the perspective of halakhah on sustaining such a positive outlook toward work, considering the obligations that both employer and employee have to one another. The dignity of both are critical. On Shabbat morning, we’ll explore some of those details.
Rabbi David Wise