Of what were the sons of Gershon potentially jealous?
(4,22) “Take a census of the sons of Gershon, also them, according to their fathers’ houses, according to their families.”
The Midrash says that the posuk in Mishlei 3:15 “It is more precious than pearls (פנינים), and all your desirable things cannot be compared to it”, is speaking about Kehas and Gershon. That even though Gershon was the firstborn and the Torah usually gives honour to the firstborn, nevertheless, since Kehas carried the Holy Ark which contained the Torah, the Torah spoke about them before Gershon - first it says “take a census of the sons of Kehas”, and afterwards it says “take a census of the sons of Gershon”. This is the what the posuk in Mishlei is saying: “He (Kehas) is more precious than פנינים” - the word פנינים can mean first or earlier - more precious than those who came first.
Behold, this Midrash is a puzzle - why was the Midrash not bothered by the question of why the sons of Gershon were not being counted first in the previous parsha when the sons of Kehas were being counted. Why only now, when it came to the counting of the sons of Gershon, did it gave a reason why Kehas was counted first.
But behold, by the sons of Gershon it says “raise up the head (take a census) of the sons of Gershon, also them”, but by the sons of Merari it does not say ‘raise up’ - it says only “the sons of Merari, according to their families, according to their fathers’ houses, count them”. We can explain that this is because the superiority of the sons of Kehas was acknowledged by their being counted first, and so if the sons of Gershon were counted immediately afterwards, their superiority of being the firstborn would not have acknowledged, and thus they would have been jealous of the sons of Kehas.
Because of this Hashem commanded that Moshe should make an break after counting the sons of Kehas, and then start counting again with the sons of Gershon, and afterwards, together with them, the sons of Merari. By doing so, He gave honour also to the sons of Gershon since they are also being counted first.
Therefore it says “raise the head of the sons of Gershon, also them” - just as the sons of Kehas had a raising of their head by being counted first, so too were the heads of the sons of Gershon raised by being counted first so that they would not be jealous. And therefore, with the sons of Merari who were not counted by themselves since they had nothing to be jealous about it does not use the expression 'raise the head', only “count them according to their families”.
According to this, before we see that the Torah used the expression 'raise the head' by the sons of Gershon it would not have been necessary to explain that the sons of Kehas were counted first because they carried the Holy Ark. Instead we could have explained that the reason was because Moshe was from the family of Kehas, and therefore he was counted first together with the rest of them.
But we know that a person will not be jealous of someone unless he has a superiority that he himself could possibly attain and thus be like him. For example, a wise person may be jealous of a wiser person, and somebody rich may be jealous of someone who is richer if it is possible that he could be as rich, or richer, than him. But a person will not be jealous of someone when he could not possibly achieve his superior level. Thus, a Yisrael will not be jealous of a Kohen, wishing that he was a Kohen and thus be able to bless Klal Yisrael and receive the priestly gifts, since he knows that he cannot possibly be a Kohen.
Therefore, since the Torah gave honour to the sons of Gershon by counting them by themselves so that they would also be first, in order that they would not be jealous of the sons of Kehas, the reason for counting Kehas first must be because of the Holy Ark and the Torah. Because this is a superiority that the sons of Gershon could attain since they could argue that they should be the ones to carry it, and thus be a cause for jealousy. And if they were told that the sons of Kehas are more fitting for this, this itself is something they might be jealous of. Therefore, it was necessary to give them honour to avoid this potential jealousy.
But if the superiority of the sons of Kehas was due to Moshe Rabbeinu being from Kehas then there is no place for jealousy, because the sons of Gershon could not have compared themselves to them by thinking that they also have someone like Moshe Rabbeinu amongst them since clearly this was not so, and so it would not have necessary to raise the head of the sons of Gershon with a separate counting. And since the Torah did so it is clear that Hashem commanded this to avoid jealousy, and thus the Midrash knew that this was because “he is more precious than פנינים” - that the potential jealousy was due to the duty of the sons of Kehas of carrying the Holy Ark which contained the Torah, which was more precious than Gershon being the firstborn.
Over what exactly were Aharon and his sons appointed?
(4,27) “According to the command of Aharon and his sons shall be all the service of the sons of Gershon, in all their burden and in all their service, and you shall appoint them over them to be in charge of all their burden.”
The conclusion of this posuk “and you shall appoint them over them to be in charge of all their burden” appears to be completely superfluous, but it seems to me that we can explain it according to the teaching of Chazal that only someone who involves himself with Torah is a free man. And from the Midrash that we brought earlier it is clear that the sons of Kehas are considered as being involved in Torah by their carrying of the Holy Ark, and therefore it was not proper that there should be an authority appointed over them, since one who is involved in Torah is a free man.
Therefore in parshas Bamidbar (4:16) with regard to the sons of Kehas it says that “the charge of Elazar” was “for all the Mishkan and all that is in it, of the Holy and its furnishings”. It mentions the appointment of authority only over the items over which the sons of Kehas were appointed, and not over the sons of Kehas themselves over whom it is not fitting that they be appointed. But with regard to the sons of Gershon it says, “and you shall appoint them over them to be in charge of all their burden”. Here Aharon and his sons were appointed over the sons of Gershon themselves.
Moreover, by the sons of Kehas where the appointment was only over the things which they were in charge of and not them themselves, this appointment over them was relevant only at the time when they started to travel, when they allocated to each one what they should carry. But once the sons of Kehas had received their charges it was no longer relevant that the sons of Aharon be appointed over them. But with the sons of Gershon it says, “and you shall appoint them over them to be in charge of all their burden”, that even at the time when they are already in charge of their burden the sons of Aharon were still appointed over them, since the appointment was over the sons of Gershon themselves and thus is relevant at all times.
With this we can resolve a difficulty with our posuk which says “according to the command of Aharon and his sons shall be the service of the sons of Gershon”, which is difficult because the next posuk says that their supervision was “in the hand of Elazar, the son of Aharon the Kohen”.
But it appears to me that the meaning is that there were two appointments, one at the time of the allocation of the vessels when the camp travelled, and the second at the time when they were actually carrying them. And I explained above that the first appointment refers to the vessels only but the second refers to the people themselves. Therefore the appointment at the time of allocation of the various items was in the hand of Elazar alone, since for the vessels it was sufficient for him alone to be appointed over them. But it would not have been honourable for the sons of Gershon to have Elazar by himself appointed over them at the time when they were travelling, and so the Torah honoured them by having Aharon and his sons appointed over them at that time.
This is the meaning of our posuk - “According to the command of Aharon and his sons shall be the service of the sons of Gershon”, and then continues to explain over what all of them together were appointed - “you shall appoint them over them to be in charge of all their burden”, at the time when they are carrying their burden. But the appointment over the distribution of the various items will be only in the hand of Elazar.