ith deep meaning and profound impact in our lives, transmits to us elaborately (spanning over one hundred passukim in Parshas Bamidbar, Nasso, Behaaloscha [and then further in Parshas Korach] (perek 1 passukim 47 – 54; perek 3 : 5-51; perek 4: 1-49, perek 8: 5-26 and 18-21-32) the designation, separation, elevation of the tribe of Leviim. “The Levities according to their father’s tribe were not counted among them.” – that being the rest of the Jewish Nation. “Hashem spoke to Moses saying, ‘but you should not count the tribe of Levi, and you shall not take a census of them among the Children of Israel. You shall appoint the Levities over the Mishkan of Ha’edus, over all its utensils and everything that belongs to it”
Rashi, our most illustrious commentator, tells us that the Leviim merited this elevated status because of their loyalty and courage in the incident of the Golden Calf (1:49). / The entire tribe of Levi refused to participate in that sin proving their unswerving dedication to The Creator of the Universe.
The Ramban further enlightens us – “The task of the Levities was not so much to protect the Mishkan [and Bais HaMigdash] as a militia, but rather to serve as an honor guard, as befits the royal palace” (1:53). / The Jewish people’s task is to be an instrument of recognition of Hashem and His will in this world. Chazal tell us that a true King only assumes status as a ruler if there exists a nation that acknowledges and follows His decrees. / Thus Leviim in all generations are those Jews who steadfastly keep their focus on proper, enthusiastic service of Hashem through His Torah.
The Leviim’s duty in the Mishkan/Bais HaMigdash was to assist the Kohanim – among other ways by singing and playing musical instruments as korbonos were brought. Today the sound of our voices and music, if expressed sincerely, is an inner expression of our soul’s yearning to come close to the Creator. Song also expresses the fact that the total harmony of the universe is under the absolute control and guidance of Hashem.
The Divine service of Leviim represents the part of each of us that links us forever with our spiritual purpose in this world. Rashi, on the same passuk, tells us: that “from this time on, the Leviim were to be separated from the rest of the nation and elevated to a new status.” The Seforno, (also on this passuk) informs us that: “because the Leviim would be performing their service on behalf of the nation, the rest of the people would have the obligation to support them, by giving them tithes.”
An Art Scroll commentary explains it thus: “Those who serve the people by filling their responsibilities in the Tabernacle, by teaching the Torah, or by performing any other spiritual tasks are not to be regarded as supplicants. It is national responsibility to provide for those who carry out the spiritual obligations of the rest of the people.”
The Leviim were counted from one month and upward – with no limit to age indicating that their spiritual mission is not dependent on age or strength (3:15). The Rambam describes the mission of the Leviim in Hilchos Shemittah and Yovel (13: 12-13) “They are the legion of Hashem, whose task is to serve Him and to teach His Torah and way of life to others.” He adds : “Any who follows the example of the Leviim becomes sanctified as kodesh kodashim, and Hashem will be his portion and heritage for all eternity. In this world, he will merit what befits him, as the Kohanim and Levities merited it.” This status of Levy is conferred for life on all those who totally dedicate their lives to the service of Hashem, independent of age or strength.
A wonderful concept derived from the Leviim’s designation is brought to light by the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 3:7). The infant Leviim counted from one month old, surely did not participate in the guarding the Mishkan, so the Leviim should have been counted from when they began their service. However, Hashem wished to reward them greatly for their loyal service, so when they reached thirty years old and began to serve, He retroactively rewarded them as if they had indeed served from the age of one month.
This concept should also apply to our own lives. Meaning, if we totally dedicate our time, energy and potential from now on to the service of Hashem, we may merit to have our entire lives credited as Divine service. How much hope and opportunity this teaching offers us. We can no longer say it’s too late, or I have already wasted so much of my life. If we start today with an absolute dedication, we can be credited with lifelong service.
Now let us look at a few classical commentaries on the names and purposes of the three sons of Levi, who each were given a unique role in the carrying of the Mishkan. In Bamidbar 3:17 it is stated – “These were the sons of Levi, by their names: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.” However in 4:4 it is stated “This is the work of the sons of Kohath in the Ohel Moed: the most holy.” The commentators explain that Kohath was later listed first before Gershon because he was designated to carry the most holy parts of the Mishkon, meaning that he had become elevated because of his assignment.
What can we learn and apply to our own lives from this part of the Torah? Some of the great Cassidisher masters teach us that Gershon, Kehas and Merari represent three varying but proper approaches available to us depending on our spiritual level, when we are confronted by challenging circumstances. There is the level of the tzaddik, whose service is so unswerving that no temptation lures him away from his steadfast dedication to the Creator. This is symbolized by the sons of Kehas, who carried the Aron Hakodesh miraculously on their shoulder – like tzaddkim who don’t use the desires or objects of this world for their own personal pleasure, but only for Divine service.
The next level of avoda is practiced by those stay at a distance from the allurements of the yetzer hora, making ‘spiritual fences’, as alluded to in the name Gershon – separating or divorcing themselves from anything that could blemish their proper service.
Then there are those times when, for all of us, the righteousness of Kohath or the protective attributes of Gershon are not within our reach. At such times we must use the inner strengths represented by Merari. Literally the name means “bitter”, and it is at those times, when life seems bleak, when one feels helpless and besieged, that the proper avodah is to cry out sincerely to our Creator. Merari was assigned to carry the heaviest parts of the Mishkan teaching us that the proper path of service during difficult times, as hinted to in his name, is to accept the yoke of Heaven with sincere repentance.
When the Jewish nation was asked: “Mi la-Hashem…?” the entire Shevet Levi stepped forward. May we all merit to “step forward” thereby bringing closer the Final Redemption, soon in our days.