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April 24, 2013
Jewish World Review
Jan. 16, 2003
/ 22 Teves, 5764
You are in the (Divine's) army now
Rabbi Berel Wein
Pedigree or not, all of us must become Levites
The kohanim and Leviim (priests and Levites) form a distinct and special group among the Jewish people. The Torah grants them special privileges and the Jewish people as a whole accord them special honors. In Temple times, they were the custodians and public servants of Israel in the Temple service. The gifts and tithes of Israel supported them and they were exempted from many civic responsibilities and national duties. They were to be devoted to the service of
G-d and of Israel, a holy and dedicated cadre of teachers, role models and public servants.
Even today, when Temple services in Jerusalem are nonexistent and the kohanim andLeviim receive no tithes or special gifts from the rest of Israel, they still receive special honors in the synagogue and family and are viewed with unique respect and honor. In the enslavement of the Jews in Egypt, which is described in this week's Torah reading, the tribe of Levi was exempted from the physical toil of forced labor. Moshe (Moses) and Aharon (Aaron), the first kohanim, were the leaders of Israel and it is through their hands that the deliverance from Egyptian bondage was achieved. We all know that being a kohen or a Levi is a matter of Jewish patrilineal descent. But nevertheless, there is a clearer and much more universal definition of being a member of this group that the Torah provides, and that definition includes all of us, in fact, every human being on earth.
Rabbi Moshe ben-Maimon, known as Maimonides, in his magnum opus Mishna Torah, states: "What differentiated the tribe of Levi…was that they were designated and separated from the others in order to devote themselves to the service of G-d, to teach G-d's righteous ways and just statutes to the many…Therefore, they were held apart from worldly ways and mundane tasks; they did not participate in the battles of war; they did not inherit or acquire land for themselves.
Rather, they were G-d's army… and the Blessed One sustained them, for it is written: "I am your share and your
inheritance." And this is true not only for the tribe of Levi exclusively, but "for every human being that enters this world,
whose spirit moves one and one understands of one's own knowledge and will that one wishes to be apart and to
stand before the L-rd and serve and obey Him, to know G-d and to walk righteously as the Creator intended; to
remove the yoke of the many schemes that man pursues such a person is sanctified and is the holy of holies. The L-rd will be that person's share and inheritance forever and the L-rd will provide for this holy person in this physical world as
well, so that the person will be able to have that which is sufficient for life, as the L-rd so provided for the kohanim and Leviim."
This most powerful statement contains within it the essence of the Jewish worldview of life and its purpose. Maimonides
declares: "Everyone can be a Levi!" That was the hard lesson of Egyptian bondage namely, that the way for a Jew to escape the physical bondage of society that otherwise engulfs one is to be a Levi. It is because of this insight, that
Moses and Aaron become the leaders of Israel and the redeemers and role models for all generations of Jews.
But in our time, perhaps even in past times, family descent is an insufficient guarantee of the spiritual future of any
individual Jew, and certainly of Jewish society as a whole. The road of assimilation in American Jewish life is littered with
the descendants of great Jews of previous generations. Hillel had it right when he said; "If I am not for myself, then
who will be for me?" It is not sufficient for Ephraim to be a Levi by descent and pedigree only. He must become a
"Maimonides Levi" and the accomplishment of that is dependent completely upon him… It takes years of Torah (Bible) study, personal sacrifice and unwavering commitment to become a "Maimonides Levi."
The taskmasters of Egyptian bondage, in all of their attractive and unattractive guises, are persistent and cruel in our
society, especially towards the young. Moses and Aaron call out to redeem but sometimes we don't hear or listen to
them. But the truth of the matter is that we all would like to be Leviim. And true Leviim "Maimonides Leviim" never toil in the bondage of the Egyptian Pharaoh.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in uplifting articles.
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Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and
founder of the Destiny Foundation.
He has authored over 650 tapes, books and videos which you can purchase at RabbiWein.com.
Comment by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).
© 2004, Rabbi Berel Wein