The Responsibilities of the Gershon and Merari Families
Having detailed Kehat’s responsibilities in the previous portion, the Torah now outlines Gershon and Merari’s roles. Gershon’s descendants are to carry the curtains, sealskin, screens, hangings and cords which make up the outer structure of the Tabernacle. The Merari family is in charge of transporting the boards, bars, pillars, sockets and ropes of the Tabernacle’s frame. Both families are meant to work under the supervision of Ithamar, son of Aaron.
Moses counts the Levites aged 30 to 50, as asked. Kehat has 2,750 members, Gershon has 2,630 members and Merari has 3,200 members of service age. All told, there are 8,580 Levites between the ages of 30 and 50.
God continues by insisting on the purity of the newly-arranged camp, ordering lepers or those who become ritually contaminated for any reason to leave for the duration of the their impurity.
Next, the Torah prescribes the restitution required from one who steals. The thief is to return the stolen property, along with a fifth portion penalty. If the aggrieved party has no kin to whom the restitution can be paid, it goes to the priest, in addition to the offering that the guilty party must bring. God reminds us that certain portions of the offerings which the priest officiates are designated for that priest.
The Israel Bible points out the seemingly random direction the text is taking — from discussing the Israelite camp and the roles of the Levites, the Torah moves on to talk about theft, jealous husbands and Nazirites! From this we learn that the Children of Israel are expected to maintain a high level of holiness and morality, not just in their relationships with God, but also in their relationships with their fellow man, within their families and with themselves. For God to dwell among His people, they must demonstrate respect and sensitivity in all parts of their lives.
Virtual Classroom Discussion
Why do you think a thief has to add a fifth to the restitution he pays for stealing? What can we learn from this?