Although not doing wrong is certainly commendable, it is sometimes not enough. It is often necessary to take a stand and get involved.
This week’s Torah portion is Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20), and it begins the Book of the Torah (the 4th of 5) of the same name. It is interesting to note that the English name for this book of the Bible is “Numbers,” because of the many times God takes a census of the Jewish people. Yet the Hebrew name for this book is “Bamidbar,” which means “In the Desert,” clearly due to the fact that most of the Jewish People’s 40 years of wandering in the dessert is recorded in this book.
As could be expected, the Book of Numbers begins with a commandment to take a census of the Jewish people. Unlike a modern census, in those days it meant a count of males over 20 years old. The tribe of Levi, however was not included in this national census.
The tribe of Levi was counted separately, with different rules. All males over one month old were included in that census.
So the double question is asked: Why a separate census? And why were children included in the Levite count?
It is explained that the tribe of Levi is special. If Jews are the chosen people, the Levites are the chosen of the chosen. This is partly because while everyone else was at the “Golden Calf disco,” the Levites remained faithful to God. As such, God rewarded them with the honor of serving Him in the Holy Temple.
In fact, the Levites were essentially the administrators of the Holy Temple. They would also assist the Priests (“the Kohanim”) as needed. Originally, it was all firstborn Jews who were to “run the show” in the Temple, but after the Golden Calf fiasco, God took the honor away from the firstborn and gave it to the Levites. As the Midrash (rabbinic literature) says, “The Levites made themselves close to me, so I will be close to them.”
But here’s another question: Could it be that every single Jew participated in the sin of the Golden Calf? Everyone? Were there no individuals who understood that it was the wrong thing to do? There must have been! Therefore, why didn’t God also reward them as well?
The answer is that although not doing wrong is certainly commendable, it is sometimes not enough. The Levites did more than just not participate in the Golden Calf…they protested it! They rolled up their sleeves and said what had to be said. And when Moses put an end to the Golden Calf episode by yelling, “Whoever is with God, let him come with me,” only the Levites, as a whole, followed him.
So yes. There were other righteous people as well, but only the Levites served as role models for the Jewish nation by taking a stand.
It was leadership that separated the Levites from everyone else. And for this, they were rewarded.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.
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