To The Gershonites and Merarites
The beginning of Parshat Nasso discusses the specialized work of three branches of the Leviim. Each of these groups had some type of responsibility with the upkeep and the transport of the Mishkan. The Gershonites and the Merarites, as compared to their brethren the Kohathites, had specialized work behind the scenes. Their work was not glamorous. It was holy work, indeed, to disassemble, transport and re-assemble the Mishkan, but it must have been tedious work to engage in the same manual labor throughout one's adult life.
This work must have taken great skill, and people were in awe of the finished product, but a product, even a holy product, is the product of people's hands and skills.
This poem explores work that is repetitive and done with one's hands and what that means.
To the Gershonites and Merarites:
who pulled the plugs
Who twisted and turned
Who emptied and filled
Who wrapped and tied
Who wound and bound
Who folded and pressed
Who sewed and praised
Who smoothed and stored
Who packed and unpacked
and then began again.
Who worked to serve
Who daily strove
who perhaps pined
for something else
A taste of the jewels
A sampling of the grandeur
Tasks measured in the corner
behind the curtains
yet undeniably important
Led the way
to those who awaken each morning
to the same task
come rain or shine.
To those who daily sow,
The list continues.
What makes kedusha?
Holiness is as holiness does.
Listen to the tap of the hammer,
see the neatly folded curtains,
and there you will find kedusha.
Take a census of the Gershonites also, by their ancestral house and by their clans.
Record them from the age of thirty years up to the age of fifty, all who are subject to service in the performance of tasks for the Tent of Meeting.
These are the duties of the Gershonite clans as to labor and porterage:
they shall carry the cloths of the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting with its covering, the covering of dolphin skin that is on top of it, and the screen for the entrance of the Tent of Meeting;
the hangings of the enclosure, the screen at the entrance of the gate of the enclosure that surrounds the Tabernacle, the cords thereof, and the altar, and all their service equipment and all their accessories; and they shall perform the service.
As for the Merarites, you shall record them by the clans of their ancestral house;
you shall record them from the age of thirty years up to the age of fifty, all who are subject to service in the performance of the duties for the Tent of Meeting.
These are their porterage tasks in connection with their various duties for the Tent of Meeting: the planks, the bars, the posts, and the sockets of the Tabernacle;
the posts around the enclosure and their sockets, pegs, and cords—all these furnishings and their service: you shall list by name the objects that are their porterage tasks.
Those are the duties of the Merarite clans, pertaining to their various duties in the Tent of Meeting under the direction of Ithamar son of Aaron the priest.