This week’s Torah Portion, Parshas Naso, has a continuation of the count of the Levite families and the jobs assigned in the carrying of the Tabernacle. In Chapter 4, verse 22, it says, “Count the sons of Gershon, also them.” The words “also them” is only written in relation to this family. Why? Because other families carried seemingly more important things, such as the actual vessels of the Tabernacle. The Gershoni family carried the outside curtains. It didn’t look all that glamorous their assignment. However, they did their job perfectly, with enthusiasm, realizing they were not to aspire for someone else’s job, but to do their G-dly mission. Therefore, G-d added in the verse the words, “also them” to give them acknowledgment – to, so to speak, say “also they are very important”. (as explained by HaRav Moshe Feinstein, ZT”L).
Many moons ago, my dramatic flare finally got rewarded with one of the main parts in the school play. Ah, that was to have arrived in the petty world of teen-hood and high school politics (why schools allow it is beyond my ken). Like all good high school drama productions, this one had more drama before the production ever got underway. There were those who deeply resented my having been assigned a star role. There were others who felt slighted they hadn’t received it. At a certain point, though young in years, I made a mature decision. I opted out. I had no interest in the animosity. It wasn’t worth it. If my career were to be heading to Hollywood, a high school play wouldn’t make a difference on my CV. And if my career led elsewhere, then surely the high school play wouldn’t make a whit of a difference. In other words, in the general scheme of life, it wasn’t important to star in the play (though it would have felt mighty good for one night). I don’t know what conferences were held about me behind closed doors and how many teachers (and the principal) tried to get me to reconsider. Yup, my stubbornness which was legendary stayed in place. I had made my choice, and I would stick to it.
I ended up doing the lighting (which was a blast) and after the play was over was helping haul props and scenery offstage when I bumped into our legendary principal. She was so shocked to see me she did a literal stand-in-one-place-mouth-agape moment. I had no clue what she wanted of me, when she asked me, “What are you doing?!” “Uh oh,” thought I, as I dropped one end of a heavy scenery I was lugging, “what did I do wrong now?” I explained I was just helping load the van outside and she looked very bewildered. It took some time, but then she looked amused. The next day a friend let me know the principal had a chat with her thereafter. I s’pose she had to unload her thought process to someone. She told my classmate she had thought I was being a spoilsport by dropping out of the play. However, now she saw I really meant no harm, but just wanted to have a more peaceful existence. It might have been my principal’s roundabout way to tell me, “you did good, girl,” by telling those words to my friend, knowing it would come around to me.
That one decision has allowed me to see life a bit differently as I travel it. Whereas four years before that had happened, while singing in a choir, I had let my voice soar way above any other voice, beyond the range of even the harmony, to a point where it didn’t blend seamlessly into the choir, I had matured now to understand the concept of teamwork and was able to drop the starring role and drag scenery instead.
It is a crucial skill, in work, in life, in family dynamics, to understand how to put one’s full effort, heart and soul to pick up the work needed to be done by you and only you…precisely you… because no one else is doing it. It is ever more crucial to remember G-d values each time we pick up the task needed to be done and do it with love and care.
My father (yup, I was blessed with the best teacher!) would tell us whatever we would do in life, we must do it fully, with pride, and for G-d. He cited Chanoch as being the role model to emulate. Chanoch, we are taught, was a cobbler, a shoemaker. Each stitch he stitched was done to perfection. My father would tell us, if we were to be sanitation collectors, he wanted the blocks we’d be assigned to be the cleanest and neatest. If life were to make us shoemakers, he wanted our end product shined and tip-top. He wanted us to know how to give our all to doing our job fully, with all thoughts toward G-d.
Ants, by the way, get this. If ever you want to study efficient teamwork, go observe the ants.
Going back to my drama moments, I quote Dan Goldstein in his manifesto on how to do successful improv, where he says, “GET BEHIND THE STORY. Try not to think about yourself in longform. Instead, always ask yourself “how can I contribute to the larger picture?” and “what is my function in this piece?”
Isn’t that our role in life, to “get behind the story”, figure out G-d’s story in the world, and then ask ourselves “What is my function in that story?”
I think that is what we are learning from the Gershoni family described in this week’s Parsah. So be it that someone else got the glory of carrying the Ark. For them what was glorious was doing the job that needed to be done (for no one else was doing it) to the perfect dimension. Next time you need to grab a rag and wipe up the spill that no one else will, remember G-d loves you for doing it, so long as you do it with your whole heart and soul.
A postscript for teachers or youth leaders: As a teacher, it is not just about texts you should be teaching, but also about middos. A very fun way of getting social skills clear to many would be to use improv exercises. There are fundamentals in improv which have huge impact on middos and interacting with peers. For example, you must always watch the cues of others. You cannot “deny” the scene someone else sets. The entire improv workshop really hones some very basic mentschlikeit themes. If you are a teacher and interested in more info about what an improv workshop is all about and how its fundamentals teach middos, just let me know. I’ll be happy to share.