The Responsibilities of the Gershon and Merari Families

Numbers 4:21-5:10

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?

Comments ( 14 )

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  • Raphael ben Levi

    The concept of stealing from a biblical perspective should not be restricted solely to material things, but in every area in life: our time, energy., etc. This is beautifully summed up in Romans 12: 1-3. But how does this practically relate to restitution?

  • Leister

    I disagree with all of you. Restitution costs. When one steals from another you are required by Torah to make restitution. Regardless what is stolen you have to give back what you stole. If you don’t have the item you have to replace it. If you cannot replace it you pay $$ to the value of that item as in “new”. The extra payment is for your benefit. It’s easy to steal something just as it’s easy to give it back especially if you have been caught. It’s even easier to ask Avivy for forgiveness then forget about it. I believe The reason you have to pay the extra is to teach you a lesson. Its easy to give something back that does not belong to you and forget about it. A different thing entirely when your made to give something that belongs to you something that is going to cost you to another. You steal enough times the cost hurts you personally and it eventually teaches you a big lesson.
    my question is this! have you ever stolen off anyone? Do you remember stealing of someone, taking something that doesn’t belong to you? Pay no attention to how long ago it was. Do you remember? So what are you going to do it about it?

  • I agree with most of you. Restitution of the victim, but also reconciliation and rehabilitation are the reasons I see for these instructions.

  • To make an additional payment to the victim is part of the atonement process. The thief should confess the theft voluntarily and the thief should make restitution to his victim for all the troubles he had caused. He must bring a guilt-offering and should restitute one fifth extra plus the stolen property so that the robbed person will not feel any loss. Stealing is taking from what G-d has given someone. So actually you are interfering in His Guidance. The fifth extra also does mean that people are caring
    for the other in order to help this person to forget the loss and to live with less cares. When a person cannot restitute because of passing away and no relatives it should be given to the priest, becoming his property. So the serving priests had also money for a living. Very social.

  • Michael

    I was wondering how they can assemble the tent of meeting with the Hoy Of Holies if no one is allowed to look upon them. They are covered during transport… Who does the uncovering and does not die? Obviously the Ark of the Covenant was built by human hands along with the other items used, yet God requires them out of view and off limits to Mankind! Makes me wonder how that in the construction of the Third Temple if the Ark of the Covenant somehow shows up those bringing it forth would not be destroyed?

    • The priests and not the Levites did the construction-work and also the covering up of the Mishkan components.

  • Sheila

    Firstly stealing is a sin against theLord. Secondly stealing is a sin against a brother. A heavy financial penalty was levied against the thief because God was looking for genuine heartfelt confession and repentance firstly to Him and to his brother which involved restitution of the stolen property plus 20% This convicts me of the serious nature of stealing even ‘borrowing’ from someone and neglecting to return the article. Stealing is rampant in our society and penalties are too slack. It’s like —- take it if you want it — it’s yours. Have worked in a clothing business and seen this first hand. It’s only through a real encounter with the Lord that hearts are changed. I know this to be so with a person who had stolen property and the goods returned.

  • Ken

    In the strictest sense, it is a form of restoring to the victim that which was lost. if someone stole something from me, not only was it stolen, i would likely be inconvenienced and the item used and possibly abused.
    The 20% restitution is an attempt to offset the residual effects of the item being stolen. It is an attempt for proper justice for the victim and a painful but reasonable lesson for the perpetrator.
    God’s law is both just and merciful to both parties. Unfortunately, man’s execution of this wonderful principle of law & justice is often arbitrary or far too harsh. One one hand, man’s laws seems to favor the criminal at the expense of the victim, but on the other hand sometimes makes victims millionaires and criminals are sometimes doomed to prison without the hope of rehab.

  • Orli

    I apologize for the “Duh!” statement. I hope that wasn’t offensive. Elohim was convicting me all night on that one. Seriously, I think that the addition of a fifth shows that the theif not only stole from a person but also from G-d. When we wrong His children we wrong Him and the only way to pay Him back is to pay this amount to His child that we wronged. The fact that the fifth amount of repayment goes to the priest if there is no person to receive it seems to imply this.

    • Diana Brown

      I agree. All sin is a theft to HaShem as it robs Him of the Glory due Him when His People go astray. I mean if we don’t stand up for Him, who will? By His allowing an atonement for stealing….confess(own your action), teshuvah-make restitution adding 20% for the damages done to the offended party or to the priest if the person was deceased and had no kin, gave the person redemption.
      Terumot (Contributions) to the Priests were mandatory and withholding their portion (Ma’aser) made one subject to the Judgment of HaShem. These offerings to holy causes are held permanently for the giver while offerings of one’s assests were temporary.
      In Numbers 5:9 and 10 the heave offering, the hallowed things of every man and what if offered to the Priest shall be his….it this (his reference) talking about HaShem? It seems if you give something of yourself to HaShem, He cheerfully and everlastingly takes it. Is that correct?

      • Diana Brown

        I know Judaism and Christianity are alike in this….repentance involves 3 steps….1. Regret that you did the deed. 2. Confess the deed as your soul requires…Psalm 32 vv. 1-5. 3. Determine never to commit this deed again. Judaism and Christianity believes this is the path to forgiveness by HaShem. Proverbs 28:27 shows how repairing others that you have harmed delivers your soul from trouble.
        The differences between the two faiths are Christians believe we need the Ruach HaKodesh living inside us to teach us how to obey the Lord’s Authority and trust that His Commandments are good for us. We believe we can only have the Lord’s Spirit abiding within us by surrendering to Him as He leads, guides and guards us. We don’t trust our hearts to lead the way. We also believe that the Messiah is the One who sends us His Spirit upon belief in Him. That doesn’t make HaShem passe. Messiah leads us back to HaShem. He is the Torah made flesh sent to dwell among us. Sent to be a willing unblemished sacrifice. Quickly to return to rule and reign in Zion for 1000 years.
        We do believe Messiah will fulfill all Messianic prophecies to Israel and the Land as He covenanted with Abraham. So keeping our soul clean is of paramount importance to us as we await His Coming.
        I know Danielle can speak to what Jewish People know about the Messiah and I know Jews and Christians differ on this Person. I say we know more as we go along. We should love and care for each other no matter what we believe because we are all in the human family.

        • Danielle Reisman

          So Jews believe that there are 2 types of sin: One between man and his fellow and one between man and God.
          In terms of confession when one sins between man and his fellow he must not only confess to God, but go seek out forgiveness from his fellow.
          Maimonides explains that complete repentance is when that person is faced with the same situation again and does not sin.

      • Danielle Reisman

        Wow! Im impressed by the faith you are exemplifying! When we give a gift to Hashem, so to speak, it is not the actual gift that is of any importance. Hashem, if He so desired, could easily create a Mishkan without our help. What we “give” Hashem is the generosity of our hearts, and the purity of our thoughts. It is not what we give, but how we give it. The age-old adage, “it’s the thought that counts,” takes on new meaning.

  • Orli


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