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The Things We Carry

06/01/2023 04:59:39 PM


The Israelites donated vehicles (carts and oxen) to the Levites to transport the elements of the mishkan, the tabernacle. Moses then divided the carts and oxen up among the three Levite families. But to the Kohathites he gave none “because theirs was the service of the [most] sacred objects, their porterage was by shoulder” (Numbers 7:9).

And so the Israelites moved the miskhan, our most holy structure and God’s home, from place to place. Some things they moved by cart, and some were carried by hand. Why? It seems so much easier, so much more efficient, to toss the items in the cart. Why didn't Moses give any carts to the Sons of Kohath?

We love to complain about schlepping. But carrying things by hand can give you a visceral sense of what matters. Anyone going on a car trip knows they over-pack. Did you need that extra set of just-in-case pants and shoes? Who cares — in the car it goes! Now try to get that in an airplane carry on, and all of a sudden requirements for what is important enough to take with us shoot up. If you carry by hand, you have a real sense that these are your essentials.

What if you had to carry it all in backpack through the woods? Our idea of what is important and valuable shifts dramatically. Everything you bring must matter. If you’re in the midbar, the wildnerness, you want to save your hands for food, water, shelter — the essentials. You’ll starve if you can’t carry food but have your hands full of shiny and frivolous objects. Deep in the desert, you only carry objects that contribute to your survival.

And cars (or carts) also enable us to do a sort of ‘aspirational packing’, I’ll call it, where we might think, “Well I might not play tennis often … but I might on this trip! I could be a star! Pack the whites and sneakers!” We don’t have to really think about where we’re going or what we want to do when we get there. With a big bag, planning is ancillary. But when you’re carrying by hand, you really have to know what you plan to do there so you can bring what you need.

I just went to an Atlanta United game (it was fabulous) and I’m told this is ubiquitous for sports, but I had to put all my items in a “clear bag”. This adds a whole other level of awareness. If everyone can see what you’re bringing — they see what condition it’s in, how you treat it, what you’ve packed it with — you consider your accessories with much greater scrutiny. There were no old candy wrappers and half-working pens packed alongside the essentials on the Kohathite's shoulders.

So imagine your job is to carry your holy objects by hand. Moses wont give you a cart. Everyone sees everything that you carry. They see the condition it is in and how you treat it. What you carry must be essential; it is the thing that is most important to who you are and where you plan to go, the life you build and re-build over and over again. And what you carry is necessary for your survival.

In this springtime many of you are moving -- maybe going on vacation or your child is going to camp or to college. As you pack, in this modern life of cars and schlepping all our possessions around, what do you have that you would still carry by hand? What is important to you? Is it a ritual object? Is it a nostalgic object? Is it a multi-tool? We say things are just things, they don't matter. But we are all attached to what we have. Have you noticed what you do carry around? Is it what is most important to you?

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