To the sons of Kehath he did not give any [carts and oxen] since theirs was the service of the [most] sacred objects; their porterage was by shoulder. (B’midbar 7:9)
entrusted to our care
are borne on our shoulders
held lovingly aloft.
The burden lightens
as hearts brim over,
a song bursts forth
and fills the air:
a glorious transport of joy.
The Torah describes the Levites’ physical labour: the Merarites were responsible for the bulky planks of the Tabernacle; the Gershonites for the Tabernacle curtains; and the Kehathites carried the holy vessels. (They were allocated carts and oxen to help transport their loads, except for the Kehathites who bore their load on their shoulders.) Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk learns from this that one does not acquire the least spark of holiness without effort.
The Sefat Emet, however, links that effort with the joy he believes should arise concomitantly. He brings a Midrash based on the verse “raise up a song and offer a drum, a sweet harp and a lyre,” (Tehillim 81:3) which connects the raising up of the holy vessels with raising one’s voice in song. He says that the fact that the Levites carried the Ark on their shoulders gave them the power to lift their voices in song. “This,” says the Sefat Emet, “is true of every person who serves God. True service fills a person with light and joy.” In his book, The Language of Truth* Rabbi Arthur Green adds that “religious life is not meant to be a weighty burden… the service of God should so fill us with joy so that we cannot keep from breaking into song.”
*The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet, translated and interpreted by Rabbi Arthur Green.