It seems we begin this portion of the Torah with a continuation of more numbers. More counting. More censuses. But here we notice something strange. Just prior in Numbers 3:17 the sons of Levi are listed in order of their seniority with Gershon being first, Kohat listed second and Merari as the final son. Did you catch that chapter 4 begins with a census with the middle family of Kohat? Perhaps this can be explained that in a similar way, the honor reserved for the firstborn is not always given to him. Any number of things can affect the reception of the blessing.
But Nasso begins with an encouragement to the firstborn of Gershon:
Take a census of the sons of Gerson, as well, according to their fathers’ household, according to their families.Numbers 4:22, The Chumash
As well. The Hebrew for this phrase is “gam hem” or quite literally “also like.” This indicates that this census in not taken of a lesser importance, but done in the same manner. Not only is it to be done with the same reverence but also Gershon receives the honor of beginning a new Parsha. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein has the following to say:
By saying as well, the Torah makes the point that both tasks are necessary for the Tabernacle and both should be done with equal joy. … To this, the Torah responds that weather one can bear the exalted Ark or only the hooks and curtains, every role is significant, because each is a unique participant in the sacred service.R’ Moshe Feinstein, The Chumash, pg 749
How easy is it to see someone who has a great calling and compare ourselves to them? When we do this, we try to reason that our worth is somehow ‘more or less than’ theirs based off of our understanding of what importance is. But here the Torah is making a point that disputes our reasoning. To HaShem, there is no greater than or less than when it comes to serving Him. Whether or not the act appears to be of a lesser degree, it is still necessary and therefore essential for the entirety of the service to take place.
It should be noted that the word nasso means to take or count but it can also mean to raise up or to elevate. This is to be further encouragement to the sons of Gershon. They may not have received the honor of carrying the Ark, but their position was one of honor nonetheless.
And what about Merari? Moshe was not told to take a census or raise them up as he was commanded to do with the other two families. We have to remember that the sons of Merari were still given tasks that a majority of Israel was not able to do. The charge of their burdens was to carry the heavy and cumbersome items; the planks of the Tabernacle, it’s bars, pillars and sockets as well as those of the Courtyard. But Merari did receive a special blessing.
Chapter 7 of the book of Numbers details all the gifts that were given by all of the heads of Israel. For the intensity of their labor, HaShem told Moshe to give the gifts to the Levites, each according to their workload.
Two of the wagons and four of the oxen he gave to the sons of Gershon, in accordance with their work. And four of the wagons and eight of the oxen he gave to the sons of Merari, in accordance with their work, under the authority of Ithamar, son of Aaron the Kohen.Numbers 7:7-8, The Chumash
Since it could be reasoned that Merari had the most difficult and undesirable job, Elohim saw to it that they had the necessary help to carry it out. We must recall that the sons of Kohat did not receive such assistance. What burdens has He charged you with? Have you looked to your help and your support systems for strength and encouragement to get the job done? No matter how “undesirable” your role is, remember that there are others who have not been given this opportunity. Your role is unique and special. Fulfill it to the best of your abilities.