Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Cleaning the home, image in the public domain
This is the service of the families of the Gershonites, to serve, and for burdens: And they shall bear the curtains of the tabernacle, and the tabernacle of the congregation, his covering, and the covering of the badgers' skins that is above upon it, and the hanging for the door of the tabernacle of the congregation
— Numbers 4:24-25
The entire nation of Israel—close on two million people, with over 600,000 considered fit for military service—were on the move. God has Moses organise the tribes into military units, each unit under the guidance of a tribal leader. The Levites alone are exempt from military service as they are to perform cultic duties for the nation. As well as moving themselves towards the promised land, preparing to invade, the Israelites must also move God—that is, the tabernacle which is God's place among them on earth. As well as performing their priestly duties of sacrifice, judgment and forgiveness, the four families of Levi (the Kohathites, the Merarites, the Aaronites and the Gersonites) are responsible for transporting the tabernacle, a huge structure that must be dismantled and rebuilt for each stop on their journey. Careful planning was thus necessary.
What strikes me about today's quoted passage is its smallness, its pathos. Within the great conquering army moving across the desert, each tribe armed to the teeth we find the Gershonites, carrying the curtains. In every major undertaking there are the heroes that everyone sings about afterwards, but there are also the unsung heroes, those quietly working in the background, serving, taking care of business, holding it all together. By calling out this curtain-carrying role, the Book of Numbers reminds us of the importance of the small, less glamorous tasks that we are responsible for.
My children love drawing and painting, and produce some beautiful artwork. They do not like putting away their pens and brushes. They love turning the living room into a boat, aeroplane, or secret cave, piling up chairs, tables, draping scarves and towels. They don't like resetting it as a living room again, and most often do not. I think my children like to see us, their parents, as their personal Gershonites.
As middle-income adults, my wife and I don't have the luxury of people to carry our curtains for us, and we must pay attention to such tasks ourselves, on a regular basis. This keeps us in service to each other, and to our children, modelling a way of being we would one day like to see them enact. It keeps us humble, learning to love the myriad details required for the big picture to become clear and bright.