Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Naso
To dedicate this lesson

Parshat Nasso


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

The tribe of Levi always seemed to have special responsibilities and privileges within the Jewish people. Our father Jacob spoke harshly of their father’s tendency to be impetuous and even violent, albeit for what was believed to be a holy and necessary cause. As a result of this admonition of Jacob, the tribe of Levi first assigned for itself a roll of service to the community of Israel and of scholarship and education. Early on in the history of the Jewish people, even before we were redeemed from Egyptian bondage, the tribe of Levi was seen as being the clergy, so to speak, of Israel. According to Jewish tradition, the tribe of Levi was not subject to physical enslavement and harsh labor as were the other tribes of Israel during the period of Egyptian bondage. The leadership of the Jewish people in Egypt in the personages of Aaron and Moshe were members of the tribe of Levi. The tribe of Levi was relatively small in number in comparison to the other tribes of Israel. The rabbis ascribe this to the fact that the blessing that the Lord bestowed upon the Jewish people that because of their affliction they would nevertheless only increase in their numbers did not apply to the tribe of Levi since they were not involved in any forced labor. It was from the tribe of Levi that the priestly line of Aaron was created and until today the special and unique character and respect bestowed upon the tribe of Levi is part of the social and religious fabric of the clergy society.

Naturally, with rewards and benefits, the Torah always imposes duties and responsibilities. The tribe of Levi was excluded from ownership of land in the Land of Israel and from most general commercial activities as well. Its role was to serve in the Temple, to be the educators and teachers of Torah to the Jewish people and to be moral personal examples of the values involved in living a truly Jewish life. The tribe of Levi lived in forty eight cities scattered throughout the boundaries of the land of Israel. They were the spiritual soldiers, so to speak, who were on the ground engaging and influencing Jewish society. They were entitled to be supported by the Jewish people as a whole through the system of tithing but they were seen to be an elite group given over to God, so to speak, in order to serve their fellow Jews spiritually and in many cases even physically. Even after the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people throughout the nations of the world, the Levites have retained certain special privileges and honors and have a unique role in the Jewish religious world. They are the symbol of national and religious service in the realm of the obligations upon all Jews to work for the common benefit of all of their brethren. Because of their special role in Jewish life they are entitled to be counted separately and uniquely in the count of the Jewish people as it appears in these sections of the Torah. There is a lesson in that for all of us, whether we are of the tribe of Levi or not.

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