SECTION HEADER: Matzah Ball Soup for the Soul

GRADUATES, MUCH LIKE THE LEVITES, DISMANTLE THEIR ‘HOME’ IN ORDER TO REBUILD

By Rachel LaVictoire
AJT CONTRIBUTOR

As the month of May comes to an end, so too does the seemingly endless list of graduations. Throughout these past few weeks, college seniors, high school seniors, eighth graders, and even—believe it or not—preschoolers have been closing the door on yet another stage of life, and cautiously moving onwards to the next.

For many, (maybe more so for the college graduates) this is a time of a sort of emotional tug-of-war. You’re excited to be in a more mature environment, but nervous to leave a comfortable home; excited to meet new people, but nervous to lose touch with best friends; and excited to take on new endeavors, but nervous for what failures might lay

In this week’s parshah, Naso, a census is taken of the holy tribe of Levi. All men eligible to transport the Tabernacle, those between the ages of thirty and fifty. The Jews at this time are still at Mount Sinai and G-d is instructing them on how to dismantle and transport the Tabernacle. This tribe, like our recent graduates, are uncertain as to how they can take something they find so valuable—something they’ve worked on at this one place with this one group of people—and take it with them as they journey 

G-d instructs that the census be taken in two parts, counting each of the two Levite families separately and then adding them together. The parshah reads:
“Take a census of the sons of Gershon… They shall carry the curtains of the Mishkan and the Tent of Meeting, its coverings and the tachash skin covering overlaid upon it, and the screen for the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. The hangings of the courtyard, the screen at the entrance of the gate of the courtyard which is around the Mishkan and the alter, their ropes, [and] all the work involved … As for the sons of Merari… This is the charge of their burden for all their service in the Tent of Meeting: the planks of the Mishkan, its bars, its pillars and its sockets. The pillars of the surrounding courtyard, their sockets, their pegs, and their ropes, all their implements for all the work involved” (Numbers 4:22-32).

If we imagine, for now, that each graduating class is the collection of all eligible Levites, all 8,580 men, and that, while not in any sort of pattern, each student falls into either the Gershon or the Merari family, then here we have a new reading of G-d’s instructions. We might interpret the previous passage to mean that each student will take with him either the “curtains” or the “planks.” Is this to say that some will carry with them the accessories of their experience and others the building blocks? For some, the obvious components and others the hidden?

Certainly we have no way of discerning what each of these symbols truly represents. However, we can still derive some basic understanding that when the students in each graduating class accept their diplomas, smile at the camera, and wave good-bye to the place they’ve grown to call home, they make a choice as to what they want to take with them to their next destination. Unfortunately, no one person is capable of carrying it all. As a college graduate moves from one city to the next, he can’t keep with him all the things he learned, all the people he built relationships with, nor all the memories he created. However, just like the Levite carrying pieces of a Tabernacle, so too does the graduate carry with him invaluable

Lucky for these students is the fact that upon reaching their individual destinations, this metaphor ceases to uphold. The Levites will have to remain united in order to truly harness the value that their curtains and planks hold—until the Tabernacle is built, the parts are nothing but tachash skins and wooden rods. For the graduates, on the other hand, the process of dismantling, carrying, and re-erecting profound experiences is far more continuous.

This month, students everywhere have been tearing down their own “tabernacles” bit by bit—saying good-bye to friends and packing their homes into boxes—but many will be rebuilding in just a few short months. At which point they will have to channel the worth of each piece they chose to carry with them—curtain or plank—and make for themselves something new.

Rachel LaVictoire (rlavictoire@wustl.edu) is a graduate of the Davis Academy and Westminster High School, recipient of the prestigious Nemerov Writing and Thomas H. Elliott Merit scholarships at Washington University of St. Louis and an active member of Temple Emanu-El and the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. She was recently named to the board of St. Louis Hillel.