Bamidbar- Holy things should retain their value

This parasha ends with a warning that approaching the holy objects in the Tabernacle could endanger their lives if they did this in the wrong way. Nechama Leibowitz examined the issue referred to by several commentators. R’ Eleazar thought that the danger was that the Levites might shirk more difficult tasks, and avoid ministering to the ark. R’ Samuel wrote that the risk was that was that the Levites might prefer the more responsible tasks due to the prestige and honour attached.

 

R’ SR Hirsch maintained that the danger was that a symbol would be accepted at it’s face value. They would look at the vessels as ordinary articles of use and fail to appreciate what they really represent. This occurred during the time of the first Temple when sacrifices were brought in an insincere manner, with adherence to the letter of the ritual and not the spirit. Sacrifices were apprehended by the Israelites not as a means of bringing man closer to G-d but as an end in itself. The Temple service acted as a substitute for deeds and a tribute freeing the participant from responsibility. The holy vessels were not to be gazed on in a material and profane sense.

 

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