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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Bamidbar

To Serve Man – and G-D

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"And the Levi’im…..were not counted among them." Much of our Sedra is devoted to a census of the tribes of Israel, the place of each one in the formation of the camp, & their position in the march towards Israel. But curiously, the tribe of Levi "was not counted among them." I say curious because Levi was indeed counted – twice, in fact! Unlike the other Shvatim, who were counted once, from the age of 20-60 years of age (the age of military service), the Levi’im were counted from as young as 1 month old (when a human being becomes viable); then were counted again, from the ages of 30-50, when their various responsibilities in the Mishkan were delineated.

The Torah explains that the unique significance of the Levi’im derived from two sources: The first was that they steadfastly stood beside Hashem & refused to participate in the sin of the Golden Calf. By doing so, they replaced the first-born, who were the original "spiritual elite" of the nation, but had lost their status due to their involvement in that sin, thus demonstrating a fatal lack of Hakarat HaTov (for being spared in Egypt during the 10th plague).

Secondly, they – like their ancestral head of the family, Moshe Rabbeinu – were the Torah teachers of the nation, & were meant to live throughout the country, in 48 cities interspersed among the tribes, educating & motivating the

nation in its adherence to G-d’s ways. In this sense, while it’s true they had no specific portion in the Land, in reality they were in every portion. Where it counts, they counted!

A superficial look at the jobs of the Levi’im would almost seem to describe them as manual workers involved in tedious tasks: Setting up the Mishkan, taking it down, carrying all the planks & boards. Assembling the curtains & tying up the ropes. Driving the pegs into the sockets to hold up the huge tent. Shlepping the heavy ritual objects that would be used by the Kohanim in the various offerings & services. Seems quite menial, doesn’t it?

But in truth, nothing is "menial" when it comes to the service of Hashem. Setting up the chairs in shul, passing out siddurim, even preparing the Kiddush; nothing is "below" the Levi if it brings people closer to G-d. Teaching the young or unversed is just as – maybe even MORE important – than lecturing to a group of scholars.

In the classic Twilight Zone episode, aliens land on Earth & round up the people to take to their planet & ostensibly pamper them with all kinds of luxuries. They say they are doing this as a selfless gesture, & they work from a manual entitled, "To Serve Man." But then one of Earth’s scientists deciphers their language & shockingly proclaims, "It’s a cookbook!" Shevet Levi’s historic task in this world is to truly serve Man – in every way possible. And that’s a sure-fire recipe for bringing the world closer to its final Redemption.

Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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