Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bemidbar 5631 Third Ma'amar

In this week’s parsha the Torah describes the arrangement of the nation’s encampment in the desert. The Mishkan was in the exact center of the encampment. Surrounding the Mishkan were Moshe and Aharon, Aharon’s children and the Levites. The remainder of the nation camped farther away around the Mishkan. The Levites’ task was to guard the Mishkan. Only the Levites were permitted to come close to the Mishkan, to take it down when they traveled, to carry the vessels of the Mishkan and to erect it when they camped. A member of any other tribe who approached the Mishkan to do this work was subject to death at the hand of God.

The Levites merited this task because they did not participate in the sin of the golden calf. However, there were certainly members of other tribes who were on a higher level than the lowest of the Levites. Why were the lowest of the Levites permitted to approach the Mishkan while these righteous people were not? The Sfas Emes explains that although subordination to God and working hard to serve Him properly is His primary desire of us, there is a limit to how close God will allow us to come to Him. God chose the Levites and no amount of work will change this. Having said this, we are still able to come as close to God as the Levites by strongly identifying with the nation. By feeling a part of the nation of Israel, and by realizing that God chose the entire nation, we participate in the closeness of the Levites as well. The Levites, after all, represent us in their service before God.

We find this idea in a Midrash in this week’s parsha. At the end of the paragraph describing the encampment of the Levites the pasuk states, “והלוים יחנו סביב למשכן העדות ... ויעשו בני ישראל ככל אשר צוה ה' את משה .../And the Levites camped around the Mishkan of the testimony … and the children of Israel did all that God had commanded Moshe …” What is it that the children of Israel did? The Midrash explains that they moved farther away from the Mishkan to make room for the Levites.

The Sfas Emes notes that the Midrash is teaching us that the nation helped the Levites to come close to God by making room for them. The nation understood that the Levites were God’s chosen within the nation and acquiesced to God’s will that their service would be through the chosen ones rather than directly. By identifying with the nation as a whole each individual would benefit from the closeness of the Levites whose work was on behalf of the nation. The Sfas Emes points out that this is the meaning of the pasuk, “... לקחתי את הלוים מתוך בני ישראל .../… I took the Levites from the midst of the children of Israel …” The Levites were not coming close to God in a vacuum. Rather they were serving God from amongst the nation of Israel. The Levites could only come close to God because they were coming from the nation.

When we identify with, subordinate ourselves to, and understand our role as part of the nation, our task as individuals gains clarity.

1 comment:

Michael Fruchter said...

Just came across your blog. Ya'asher Co'ach for spreading the words of the Sefas Emes. I look forward to reading the divrei torah IY"H every week.

Kol Tuv
Michael Fruchter