…And the charge of the children of Israel. (Bamidbar 3:8)
Rabbi Shamshon Refael Hirsch amplifies a concept which is very basic in our understanding of the Torah and Mitzvohs. The Kohanim and Levi’im, though given status and privileges above the rest, are in a sense no better than anyone else, for in reality their greatness lies in the fact that they are doing the service of klal Yisrael in the Beis Hamikdash and around it.
In other religions there is a belief that there are certain people who unequivocally have greater rights than others. Here the Torah tells us that the Kohanim and Levi’im are doing the mishmeres of the Bnei Yisrael. They are our servants to perform our obligations to ensure that the services and rituals function and are maintained as they should be.
Many times people appoint others to do a job for them and wash their hands of the responsibility with a philosophy that “I gave someone the job; now it is his problem!” I once heard an example of this: one snowy day in the midst of the winter, the eruv string was downed by a strong wind, thereby invalidating the entire eruv. Someone told his friend “You can’t carry this Shabbos, because the eruv is down.” To that he responded “We hired a Rabbi. The eruv is his responsibility. Therefore, I can carry!” “The Torah tells us not to come up with any silly ideas as such. Those who are given the job of maintenance have a communal responsibility, but it does not mitigate each and every individual’s liability. I have heard this idea from others too when they are told that they should spend time learning torah. To this they reply “I support many yeshivos and kollelim,” They are implying that since they facilitate the learning of others, they themselves have no learning obligation.
This thought process is incorrect, for besides the obligation to support Torah learning, each and every person has his own obligation.
We have just spoken about an aspect of community. In a few short days as we stand on Shavuos to reaccept the Torah, each of us will say “naasei v’nishma” – accepting responsibility for the Kohen, Levy, etc. for all of those mitzvahs that we cannot perform. Yet all of the Torah was given to each and every one of us, and as we stand together and accept the Torah we function as one, understanding the idea that our friends and neighbors who are doing their share are really doing our share.