Friday, May 30, 2014

Shiur Theatre: 21st Century Tefillah, Part 3

And here is the concluding act, in which we note that the Community of "Community Prayer" is not only the current generation, but inter-generational, across time. As far as the overall debate between the importance of personalization and the importance of community, it is recognized that both must be honoured, but that personalization on an individual level can be achieved without sacrificing community.

Standing at the shulchan

NARRATOR (standing): Act Three takes place at another meeting, two weeks later.

SARA: Okay. Next up on our agenda is the Contemporary Minyan and the Alternative Contemporary Minyan – and a third version that might be starting up soon.

All at once, incredulously:
ADAM: What?
RABBI: A third Contemporary minyan?
JOSH: Why?!

SARA: Well, the idea started because the girls were fed up that the boys weren't showing up on time to their minyan, so things were starting late.

ADAM: But I've been at that minyan - the girls don't show up on time either!

SARA: Yes, but when they do show up at 11:00, they want the minyan to be in musaf already.

JOSH (rolls his eyes): Just like their parents.

SARA: So they're bothered by the lateness, and they also want to make more changes to the minyan, and the boys don't like their ideas.

ADAM: Changes like what?

SARA (serious about the idea): Well, the Beiber berachah was their idea, and the boys rejected it, so they want that included. And they want a berachah for success on their exams, which the boys think is juvenile. And they think the berachah that the boys created for their NCAA March Madness pool is juvenile. So the girls want to create what they are calling the Female Alternative Contemporary Minyan.

MOSHE RABBEINU walks into shul at this point, from the doors in the back. The participants don't see him yet, as he walks to them slowly, grandly.

ADAM (upset): So now we're supposed to have a (counting on his fingers) Main Minyan, a Hashkamah Minyan, a Contemporary Minyan, an Alternative Contemporary Minyan, and an Alternative Female Contemporary Minyan?

RABBI (agitated): And the whole ברב עם הדרת מלך idea of davening in a large group is toast! Not to mention לא תתגודדו, the prohibition against splitting ourselves into micro-groups.

JOSH (even more agitated): And I want to know: What's coming next?

Moshe is now at the table

MOSHE (firmly): Ahem.

RABBI (eyeing the desert robe) : Umm… who are you?

MOSHE (matter-of-factly): I believe you usually call me Moshe Rabbeinu, but Moshe is fine.

Everyone stands back quickly

RABBI: No beard?!

MOSHE: Shaved for Lag ba'Omer.

RABBI: Oh. Um. Yeah. Um. Uhhh… What are you doing here? Are you here to solve this situation?

MOSHE: Do you really think there's a solution to this problem? This is one of those timeless challenges that Judaism presents.

RABBI: So what will you add to this "timeless challenge"?

Everyone relaxes a bit, back into meeting mode

MOSHE: I believe in personally crafting prayer to suit a particular situation – When my sister Miriam was sick, I drafted a short, five-word prayer for her. When the Jews made the Golden Calf, I prayed for forty days. It's like that boy, Jason, who you’ve been worried about; different situations call for different things.

RABBI (shocked): So you believe in the Alternative Female Contemporary Minyan?

MOSHE (pained expression): Please don't oversimplify; your point about the communal emphasis of communal prayer is right. And I want to add, from my own experience, that the goal of communal prayer is to bind Jews together across time, spanning the generations, as a single community, in a single covenant.

ADAM: Across time? What does that mean?

MOSHE: In the beginning, Gd made a pact with Avraham regarding the fate of his descendants. The covenant into which we entered on the banks of the Jordan River was for all Jews, in all generations. לנו ולבנינו עד עולם, for us and for our children, eternally.[1] We are one unit.

SARA: But Moshe – sir - how does being one nation affect our choice of davening, so long as we daven to HaShem?

MOSHE: Because HaShem wishes to view us as one nation when we daven. Just read the book of Shemot;[2] He heard our cries in Egypt, and He remembered Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. HaShem told us to use the Name, "The Gd of Avraham, the Gd of Yitzchak, the Gd of Yaakov," to invoke that crossing of the generations when we daven.

RABBI (excited): And you did that, too! That was your own experience - When you davened for the Jews after the Eigel, you asked Gd to remember Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov![3]

MOSHE: Precisely; to me, it is most important that each generation not view itself as isolated, adrift in time, but part of a chain of generations. So it is that your minhagim and text remain the same as that which your ancient ancestors used.

SARA (catching on): Right; and that's why we have midrashim about Jews of later generations coming to Rachel, or Yirmiyahu, or – or you – to daven for us. That's why some Jews will go to a grave to daven, to ask for help. Davening is about more than just making myself more connected to Gd.

MOSHE: Now you're getting it. And it's important to feel the bond with those ancestors. Don't you feel it when you daven, that link with your ancestors who said the same words, bowed the same way? Individual Jews have always recited words that conflicted with their personal emotions or experience in some way, just to be part of that group.[4]

ADAM: So it's about connecting with each other and with our ancestors.

MOSHE: Very much so. And at a time like this, a time of all those grand movements and schisms you mentioned earlier – now, more than ever, we need something that will hold us together, that all of us will have in common. Community Tefillah does that.

JOSH: So I'm confused; you endorse personalizing prayer, but you are adamant about preserving community. So what are you recommending? What would you tell our camper, Jason?

MOSHE: That I value both sides. And compromise is difficult. King Solomon's wife, daughter of the Pharaoh, tried to introduce music that she favoured into the service of the Beit haMikdash; that didn't go over well.[5] Innovations can easily lead to division, and as the Chatam Sofer noted,[6] based on a Mishnah,[7] "Unity, togetherness, benefits the righteous and those around them." Not to mention, the trust that comes from communal prayer is lost when people will not daven together.

RABBI (dejected): So then nothing we do will be right?

MOSHE: Nothing will be right, perhaps, but there is plenty that we can do. We should try to satisfy individualism, and the needs of a new generation of Jasons, to help them draw closer to Gd. And we should try to keep the community together, not innovating to the point that we defeat the Community aspect of Community Prayer. But most of all, we need to have the humility to recognize that we may never get it entirely right, and that those with whom we disagree will never be entirely wrong.

SARA: But – can you give us some practical direction?

MOSHE: First, I'd suggest learning. From what I have seen, davening isn't  treated as a serious subject for study, not at home and not at school. I don't mean the rules of davening, but the text. We can hardly expect people – children or adults – to find themselves and their needs and their emotions in the davening, unless they devote energy to the task.

JOSH: Understood.

MOSHE: And second: Jews have always specialized in mitzvot that resonated with their personality and talents, as the Netziv[8] and Rav Kook[9] discussed in the 19th and 20th centuries. Or like the Chatam Sofer said,[10] "No two people have the same style, because no two people love HaShem in the same way." So I favour encouraging people to add personal requests. In mitzvos, beautify them in your own style.[11] In minhag, choose songs that your family will sing at your Shabbos table. The more it can be kept to the personal level, the better.

JOSH: So that we won't alienate each other.

SARA: And so that we won't alienate ourselves from our predecessors.

MOSHE: Precisely. It won't satisfy all of the Jasons, but perhaps it will give them the tools to find themselves in their own davening, and over time they might come to appreciate finding themselves in community, too. (turns to go) And now, I must go.

RABBI: Wait, Moshe! Just one second. (reaches for his phone) Could we – would you mind – could I take a selfie with you?

MOSHE: A selfie? Seriously? Haven't you heard what I've been saying? The point isn't Selfies – the point is Community.

[1] Devarim 29:28
[2] Shemot 2:24
[3] Shemot 32:13
[4] See an interesting article by Professor David Flusser
[5] Shabbos 56b; and see Rif 281, Darchei Moshe Orach Chaim 53:10, Radvaz 2:890, Kaf haChaim 13:6, Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 2:77, and see Yabia Omer 6:Orach Chaim 7:3.
[6] Chatam Sofer 5:Choshen Mishpat 12:3
[7] Sanhedrin 8:5
[8] Netziv to Bamidbar 24:6
[9] Poem – אל חכי שופר
[10] Chatam Sofer 1:197
[11] Shabbos 133b

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Shiur Theatre: 21st Century Tefillah, Part 2

Here is Act Two. Where the first act made points promoting customization of davening, the second act responds by noting the importance of community in communal prayer. We might be overplaying the point, though.

NARRATOR: Act Two begins three weeks later, in the Camp Shul. (Join ADAM)

RABBI and ADAM are standing by the shulchan

RABBI: I don't know, Adam. I mean, this Contemporary Minyan thing… it feels separatist.

ADAM: We've been down that road, remember? Prayer helps a person talk with Gd, and to grow spiritually, in a way that makes him better. So what's the point of preserving Community Prayer, if there is no Prayer?

RABBI: Because I've come to think that the emphasis in Communal Prayer should be more on the Communal than the Prayer.

ADAM: Huh? Where does that idea come from? Of course the point is Prayer - doesn't the Talmud state that davening communally is good because Gd always hears the prayers of the community? It's about the prayer![1]

RABBI: That's not necessarily the main benefit. Communal prayer has always emphasized community. Look at the mishkan that the Jews traveled with in the wilderness; the site for talking with G-d was in the centre of the camp, the glue holding the tribes together. Or the Beit haMikdash, built on communal land owned by no single tribe, to be neutral ground on which everyone could unite.[2]

ADAM: So the community's Feng Shui is oriented around the shared place in which they daven. But that doesn't mean that communal prayer is designed to build community!

RABBI: Why not? Rambam even said that biblical rituals were designed to build community! He wrote that the purpose of עלייה לרגל, of the mitzvah of going to Yerushalayim for each holiday is to build community![3] Or look at the 40 loaves of bread brought with a korban todah, a thanks-offering, in the Beit haMikdash – the Netziv says that the Torah allows just one day to eat all 40 loaves, in order to make sure that it will turn into a community feast.[4]

ADAM: So you're telling me that the reason to daven together is community-building. Do you think that works?

RABBI: Sociologists at the University of Connecticut and Ben Gurion University in Israel think so; they've pointed out that praying in a group increases cooperation and trust among the members of the group.[5] They've found that religious men who attend shul daily are more cooperative and trusting with each other than any other group, including religious men who don't go to shul, religious women, secular men, and secular women.

ADAM: Huh? How did they prove that?

RABBI: It's a bit of a story, but for example, they did a study with 558 members from 18 kibbutzim in Israel: They paired up people, and gave each pair an envelope with 100 shekel to divide between the two of them. To make a long story short, the pairs of men who attended minyan together took less for themselves, and expressed greater trust in each other, than did any other group. The researchers even found that davening together created greater trust than eating together.

ADAM: They should come to our shul, and join the kiddush club; then they could daven and eat together – that will really build community!

RABBI: Yeah, yeah. Listen, there are other benefits besides trust, too. In a shul, davening in a large group brings the children who daven there into the community.[6] And it offers chances for people to give each other emotional support and to address communal needs.

ADAM: Communal needs? How?

RABBI: Think about it – We add elements like the Kel Malei and Yizkor for grieving, to give people the chance to cry together; that's what אב הרחמים was originally for, too, after the Crusades. We have the מי שברך for people who are sick, which raises awareness of people's needs. We recite יקום פורקן to encourage volunteerism by blessing the community's volunteers.

ADAM: Hah! That assumes the volunteers are actually back from the kiddush club in time for יקום פורקן, to hear it.

RABBI: That's two on the kiddush club; make another joke at their expense and you'll never act in this town again! But the practical aid is about more than prayers and emotional support - appeals for tzedakah have always been the norm in shul, and in older times they would announce Lost and Found and even help people find jobs in shul.[7]

ADAM: So you're claiming that this is what Gd had in mind – that tefillah b'tzibbur, communal davening, is really about community first, and davening second? You do realize that this idea encourages talking in shul, right?

RABBI: Yes, I-

JOSH enters; Rabbi stops speaking to look over at him

JOSH (agitated): Rabbi, Adam, you're not going to believe this. I just heard from some of the teens who go to the Contemporary Minyan.


JOSH: They don't find the Contemporary Minyan very contemporary; they want to break away and form an Alternative Contemporary Minyan.

ADAM: But what don't they like?

JOSH: For starters, they think the Waiters' idea of a berachah for the stock market is lame.

ADAM (sarcastic): Sure, until they want to draw on their trust funds!

RABBI: So what berachos do they want instead?

JOSH (counting on his fingers): They want one for the environment and global warming. And another for world peace – not just Jewish peace, but peace everywhere. And they want one for children in Africa, and they want one for the homeless-

RABBI (impressed): Well, it's good that they have such serious concerns. Maybe you're right – we should be encouraging the kids to take their davening so personally. If they want to talk to Gd about African children - I'm impressed!

JOSH: Um…. and they want one for keeping Justin Bieber out of jail.

RABBI: They may want growth, but I guess they're kids all the same…

[1] Berachos 6a, 7b-8a; Mishneh Torah Hilchot Tefillah 8:1; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 90:9
[2] Yoma 12a, and the Rambam rules this way
[3] Niddah 34a, Maharitz Chajes there; Moreh haNevuchim 3:34
[4] Haameik Davar Vayyikra 7
[5] Religious Ritual and Cooperation: Testing for a Relationship on Israeli Religious and Secular Kibbutzim (Current Anthropology 44:5 2003); Does it pay to pray? Costly Ritual and Cooperation, The Berkeley Electronic Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy 7:1 (2007) ; The Adaptive Value of Religious Ritual, American Scientist
[6] Prayer is a Positive Activity for Children, International Journal of Children’s Spirituality 10:3 Dec. 2005
[7] Succah 51b; and see the בית כנסת של טרסיים in Megilah 26a and Nazir 52a

Monday, May 26, 2014

Shiur Theatre: 21st Century Tefillah, Part 1

One of the various pursuits that has taken me away from this blog recently has been the effort to produce a new edition of Shiur Theatre, this one on "21st Century Tefillah". The challenge: To make the arguments for and against modern customization of communal prayer. This isn't about halachic debates regarding inventing berachot or egalitarian ritual, as you will see in the text; it's about changing the language of davening - its requests, its expressions of gratitude, and so on - to fit modern reality.

I'm not sure I am entirely comfortable with what I came up with, but I think there is a lot of truth in it. Here is Act One:

ADAM, SARA, JOSH and RABBI are all standing at the Shulchan, in the middle of a meeting. Please try to look at the crowd and each other, not the script.

ADAM (facing the Rabbi): Believe it or not, the waiters want to add a berachah for the stock market for the new Contemporary Minyan. Without Gd's Name, of course, just a מי שבירך.

SARA (also addressing the Rabbi): And the lifeguards want a berachah for the weather, too; we can have Barech Aleinu for farming weather, and Beach Aleinu for swimming weather.

JOSH (bemused): Seriously? So they want a berachah for the stock market, and a berachah for beach weather. What else?

ADAM: Personally, I think it would be a good idea to add HaTikvah.

JOSH: But we already say three separate prayers for Israel and her soldiers. And we daven for HaShem to return to Tzion, and for Yerushalayim to be rebuilt with a Beit haMikdash. So where are you going to fit in Hatikvah?

ADAM: Fine, so maybe we should just require the tune of Hatikvah. Like, the chazan for Musaf must use the tune of Hatikvah for some part of Kedushah. What do you think, Rabbi?

RABBI: I'm… (hunting for tactful words)… not so comfortable.

ADAM: What's your objection to Hatikvah?

RABBI: It's not an objection to Hatikvah; I'm uncomfortable with this whole thing, this Contemporary Minyan idea as a whole.

ADAM: But we've been through this. The kids will absolutely conform with any halachah you present, but they find it hard to relate to the davening as it is. You see them staring off into space, straggling in late, not putting on tefillin, talking to each other with their siddurim closed, don't you?

RABBI: Yes, but are they staring into space because they can't relate to the words or because they don’t think tefillah works at all?

ADAM: Probably some of both.

JOSH: He has a point, Rabbi. We expect these kids – or their parents, for that matter – to connect with words written thousands of years ago, on a different continent, in a different culture and economy and  climate. These kids are reciting words about persecution and farming and a Temple, but they're thinking Internet, reality TV and social media! The world is changing, Rabbi -

SARA (Cut off Josh): And it's not just that society is changing, but we are changing society, ourselves. We don't do things the way our ancestors did, we insist on changing them. All of the great movements of recent history – nationalism, humanism, feminism, racial equality, even Zionism – all of these express the belief that We can shape our world. We construct our own identities.[1] It's time that Judaism let us shape the way we pray.

ADAM: It's true. Look, I'll speak for myself. A few months ago, I had a friend in the hospital, facing a life-and-death surgery. Do you think I connected to G-d with רפאנו?

RABBI: So what did you do?

ADAM: I said the normal amidah, but then I added my own prayer. It was much more meaningful for me. And yes, it would have been more meaningful had I been able to do that communally, maybe having some kind of responsive reading with a tefillah I wrote myself.

SARA: And it's about more than the words. It's about the whole structure. I have a hard time growing close to Gd, or feeling moved, by a prayer that gives me rules for bowing, stepping backward, stepping forward, standing with my feet together.

RABBI: What  - you want interpretive dance instead?[2]

SARA (faux enthusiastically): Yeah! (Josh and Adam swivel around to stare at her, as if to ask, "Seriously?")

RABBI: Look, I get it. When the Shulchan Aruch[3] writes that one shouldn't even change the tunes of davening on Yom Kippur night, it does seem like he is going very far to freeze the way we daven. But if that's what Judaism is, then all of these changes are simply off-base!

SARA: Then we're going to lose these kids, Rabbi. Listen – these aren't cynical kids. These aren't the ones who are dropping out. These kids are in the system, they want to daven, they want to connect to Gd. They don't look at tefillah as some magical way to get Gd to work for them, they believe in growth and getting close to Gd. They aren’t even challenging halachah. Their only "sin" is that they want to add prayers that fit where their hearts are.

RABBI: I hear.

SARA: Look - Rabbi, do you know Jason?

RABBI: Jason Schwartz? Skinny kid in the Grade 6 division?

SARA: Yes, him. Remember how much trouble he was from the start of camp? Refusing to participate in activities he didn't like, picking fights?

RABBI: Sure; but then he seemed to adjust nicely.

SARA: He didn't adjust on his own, Rabbi. (turns to Josh) Josh, tell him what you did.

JOSH (shy about his own role): It wasn't really much; I ran into him one night, sitting in the grass by the main road in a thoughtful mood, and we got to talking. Turns out, his family was going through some bad financial problems.

RABBI: So you talked it out?

JOSH: Actually, no. He asked me… (emotional, pauses) he asked me for a prayer he could say for his father to find a job. He genuinely wanted to talk to HaShem about the situation. I told him he could add a line in Barech Aleinu, but he decided to write his own version of Barech Aleinu. And yeah, since then he does seem to have settled down.

ADAM: We all have individual needs. Look at the Torah reading from this morning, with the Jews camped in the wilderness by tribe. Doesn't Ibn Ezra[4] say that each tribal flag had a unique image, reflecting its special character? And doesn't Rabbeinu Bechayye[5] say the same thing about the unique stone that each tribe had on the Kohen Gadol's breastplate, that it was chosen to reflect their distinct traits? Judaism admits that each of us is different.

JOSH (also addressing Rabbi): And consider this: Rambam wrote[6] that the reason the sages set specific words and form for davening was only a concession to reality. Individuals didn't know how to daven, so the sages gave them a davening, but it's not לכתחילה, ossification isn't the way things were meant to be.

ADAM: So let's allow the kids to change it. Rabbi Eliezer said that one who davens in a way that is fixed, rote, is not davening an acceptable tefillah.[7] חנוך לנער על פי דרכו,[8] let each kid grow in his own way, with his own character![9]

RABBI: I hear you, and I respect what you're saying. I respect what the kids are saying. But at the same time, this sounds an awful lot like Sheilaism – you know, that woman who created her own religion around the idea that we should love ourselves, be gentle with ourselves, and take care of each other.[10] Reject the status quo and do whatever you want, right?

SARA: Rabbi, Judaism was founded on rejecting the status quo and shaping things ourselves. Avraham rebelled against his society, and was known as an עברי for it.[11] Chanah davened her own way at the mishkan in Shiloh. We charted our own path then, and we should do it again. Enough with the limits!

RABBI (growing frustrated): But there are limits! We aren't allowed to add to the Torah,[12] even a prophet can't add to the Torah![13]

JOSH: So is that your ruling? The kids can't create their Contemporary Minyan?

RABBI: (pause for thought, sigh and exhalation) No, I'm not going to block it. But I've reviewed the rest of the ideas the kids have submitted, and there is one I will have to cut.

ADAM: Which one?

RABBI: The מי שבירך for the Maple Leafs – that ought to be a קל מלא רחמים.

SARA: But they can keep the berachah for Rob Ford's political future?

RABBI: No way, Sara; that's a ברכה לבטלה if I've ever heard one.

Act Two and Act Three may follow...

[1] Charlotte Krolokke and Anne S. Sorensen, Gender Communication Theories and Analyses;; Ilan Stavans Lost in Translation: An Autobiographical Essay
[3] See Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 619:1; Mishneh Berurah 619:7, Maharil Hilchos Yom Kippur 11
[4] Ibn Ezra to Bamidbar 2:2
[5] Shemot 28
[6] Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Tefillah 1:4
[7] Mishnah Berachos 4:4
[8] Mishlei 22:6
[9] And see Orot haTeshuvah 5, and Rav Kook's poem אל חכי שופר, on each person's unique character
[10] Bellah and Madsen, Habits of the Heart, cited in
[11] Bereishit Rabbah 41
[12] Bal Tosif
[13] Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Yesodei haTorah 8

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Who carries whom?

I don't know that I have regular readers anymore, but if I do, sorry for the lag between posts. It's not for lack of topics on which to blog. I'm trying to get my schedule under control, but I don't expect to succeed until after Shavuos...

In the meantime, here is an article I wrote for this week's Toronto Torah, on the job of carrying the Aron. The core idea is original, but I think it's right:

Our Torah portion, collaborating with Parshat Naso, offers perplexing misdirection.

This week we are told, "Aharon and his sons will take down the curtain, and use it to cover the Aron [Ark]. They shall place over it a cover of tachash, spread a garment of techelet above it and put its poles in place… and then the sons of Kehat will come to transport." (Bamidbar 4:5-6, 15) Next week we will add, "The sons of Kehat… work with the sacred items, transporting [these] upon their shoulders."

These verses teach that the clan of Kehat carries sacred items, including the Aron. However, the Talmud (Sotah 35a) contends that the Aron actually carries its "bearers". Describing the way the Jews entered Canaan, the Talmud claims that G-d split the Yarden River to allow the Jews to cross, then the river was restored, and then "the Aron carried its bearers" across the water. Lest one say this levitative incident was a momentary fluke, the Talmud continues to say that this state is the norm. [See Shemuel II 6 for more regarding this.]

If the Aron truly carries itself, why does the Torah pretend that human beings carry it?

Perhaps we may compare "carrying" the Aron with another unlikely biblical pretense of transportation. The prophet Yechezkel describes four chayot which transport a Divine throne. (Yechezkel 1) As explained by Don Isaac Abarbanel, the chayot do not actually move the throne; rather, "transporting the throne" refers to carrying out the Divine will. One chayah, which has the image of a bird, flies swifly to the rescue of those who serve G-d. A second chayah, pictured as an ox, delivers benefit like the blessings of the fields. The third chayah, appearing like a lion, deploys massive strength to punish criminals. And the fourth chayah, looking like a human being, conveys the Divine message via prophecy. The bearers of the Divine throne are transported by that throne, charged with a mission and energized with the power to carry it out. The same may be said for the task of carrying the Aron; to "carry" the Aron is to be charged with implementing a mission on its behalf.

This idea may illuminate a debate regarding which people were charged with "carrying" the Aron. Bamidbar 4 teaches that the Levite clan of Kehat carried the Aron. On the other hand, Devarim 31:9 mentions "the Kohanim, sons of Levi, who carried the Aron." Is this mitzvah for Levites, or for Kohanim? The mixed message persists after the Jews enter Israel. When the Jews cross the Yarden River (Yehoshua 3-4), the Kohanim carry the Aron. The Kohanim also carry the Aron when the Jews surround the city of Yericho (Yehoshua 6), and when the first Beit haMikdash is dedicated. (Melachim I 8) On the other hand, Divrei haYamim I 15 records that the Levites carried the Aron during the days of King David. So whose mitzvah is this?

Rambam (Sefer haMitzvot, Aseh 34) contends that Levites only carried the Aron in the early days, when there were few Kohanim, and then the mitzvah was transferred to the Kohanim. Ramban (Hasagot to Shoresh 3) disagrees, contending that the mitzvah was always for the Levites; the three recorded times when the Kohanim carried the Aron were exceptions, commanded by prophets.

Perhaps transport by the Kohen and Levite reflects two different missions carried out with the Aron on behalf of G-d: the Kohen's service in the Beit haMikdash, and the Levite's task of teaching Torah to the nation. (Devarim 33:10) Per Rambam, the Aron is a denizen of the Beit haMikdash, associated with the Kohen's service of G-d in the Beit haMikdash; carrying the Aron is an act between Man and G-d. Per Ramban, the Aron is home of the Torah, associated with the Levite's teaching of Torah to the Jews; carrying the Aron is an act of conveying the presence of G-d to the nation. Within this view, only in unique moments of Divine closeness – crossing the Yarden, the miracle at Yericho and the inauguration of the Beit haMikdash – is the Aron carried by those who conduct the service in the Beit haMikdash.

Whether transporting the Aron is a way for Man to serve G-d or a way to communicate G-d's Torah to Man, one point is clear: its bearers, like those who bear the Divine throne, have a fundamental mission. G-d does not need the service of the Kohanim or the Torah teaching of the Levites, but if the Torah were to state openly, "the Aron moves on its own," then the bearers might take their mission lightly. By stating, "You shall carry the Aron upon your shoulders," the Torah emphasizes our great task. Service of G-d, and communication of the Divine message to human beings, ought not be left to others, or to G-d; these responsibilities rest upon human shoulders.