The Vital Importance of Structure

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By Rabbi Naftoly Bier

The רמב”ם, Maimonides, in הלכות כלי מקדש, Laws of the Vessels of the Sanctuary, states the following:

“The Levites’ service was to guard the Temple. Among the Levites, there were gate-keepers who would open the gates of the Temple and close its doors. And there were singers who would accompany the sacrifices with song each day. (3:2)

“All of the Levites are warned [not to participate in] the service of the altar, as [ibid. 18:3] states: ‘But to the holy utensils and to the altar they should not draw close so they do not die.’ [This prohibition implies] that they should not draw close to the service [of the Sanctuary], but they may touch [the sacred utensils]. (3:9)

“Just as the Levites were warned not to perform the service of the priests, so too, the priests were warned to not perform the work of the Levites, as [the above verse] states: ‘Also, they, also you [shall not die].’ Similarly, the Levites themselves were warned that each one should not perform the task incumbent on a colleague. Thus a singer should not assist a door-keeper, nor a door-keeper a singer, as [ibid. 4:49] states: ‘Every man, according to his service and his burden.’ (3:10)

“When Levites perform the service of the priests or one Levi assisted in a task that is not his, they are liable for death at the hand of heaven, for [ibid. 18:3] states: ‘shall not die.’ When, by contrast, a priest performs the service of a Levite, he is not liable for death. Instead, he violates merely a negative commandment.” (3:11)

(For further reference, see Tractate Arachim 11b)

We are being taught one of the most fundamental ideas. At first, it seems perplexing that 1) a person who does the service of a fellow Levite, due to one being appointed to that specific service can be liable to die at the hands of Hashem (מיתה בידי שמים) and 2) If a Levite notices his fellow Levite struggling with opening a door and he assists him, he is liable, for he hasn’t been designated for that particular agency. Why? It’s true he violated a command of Hashem; but how do we understand the severity of his transgression?

From the onset of ספר במדבר, the Book of Numbers, the Torah admonishes us to be extremely careful and diligent concerning the structure of the camps, the separation of each tribe and camp to pursue their singular mission demonstrated by a banner and finally the above mentioned rule of, “sticking to one’s job!”

Harav Yeruchum Levovitz זצ”ל, relates that the Alter MiKelm was as upset/angry at one who didn’t place one’s chair in an exact position as if the person desecrated the Shabbos! Why?!

Harav Yeruchum related that he “inherited” a garment that the Alter had worn for thirty years. Despite its age it appeared as new, due to the extreme, constant care it was given! Cleanliness!

The Alter never looked to the side; if another did it was an embarrassment, for who has the time to forego constant focus on their objective. His hat and yarmulke were in the same exact position all day! Focus!

Structure!! The Alter taught that, “structure is akin to a beautiful diamond necklace worth thousands of dollars. The string and the knot that hold it together are inexpensive to say the least, but nevertheless are what protects it from being lost.

In the same manner if a person doesn’t awaken, pray, begin to learn Torah, and end one’s learning at a specific time on a constant basis, one is relinquishing the structure of life that is the key to all success. Everything has its specific time and place; if the sun moved out of its path a drop, it would wreak havoc in the world.” Hashem created the world with the dynamic of exactness and structure. “It is well-known that European nations that had the positivity of structure accomplished more than others, surely in the spiritual—Torah—world it’s the same.” Structure defines a person, it ensures that one acts with constant commitment, obligation, precision, dedication, and selflessness. Moreso it defines one’s actions as being completely לשם שמים, subservient to Hashem’s will.

Another facet to the critical, crucial idea of structure is the protection of one’s social interaction. Too often, unfortunately, people due to their need of attention, validation, or acclaim will decide to dispense advice and recommendation to others, though unsolicited. The Torah is alerting and exhorting us that there is a slippery slope that one can fall into if one enters in the domain of another—even just to assist them. “My obligation is in my domain only”; by declaring that one is placing themselves on Hashem’s stage, safeguarding that their intentions are solely to better His world, and not to mitigate it with mistaken perceived thoughts that it is selfless in its scope.

The כהנים, priests, were instructed to safeguard the לוים, Levites from entering another’s domain. Why do they need supervision? The Torah teaches it is natural for one to expand their horizons in their merit to promote קידוש השם, sanctification of Hashem, but it truly is tainted with one’s selfish need to perform—to gain attention or just to feel good about oneself.

Structure, either timeliness or “knowing one’s place,” safeguards one’s actions to be completely selfless and in turn to ensure true self-validation and esteem by recognizing that one’s actions are לשם שמים, for the sake of Heaven!

We need this portion the Shabbos before Shavuos; it being a critical lesson in how to renew the acceptance of Torah upon ourselves.

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