We Can All be Leviim
Chosen as a group because of their dedication to Hashem, the
Leviim were purified through special procedures detailed in
parshas Beha'alosecho. The result of this was a
special status whose essence is summarized in the succinct
statement by Hashem: Vehoyu li haLeviim -- The Leviim
are Mine (Bamidbar 8,14).
In the Torah, the content of the special role of the Leviim
might appear somewhat technical, being described in terms of
their assistance to the Cohanim in the service in the Ohel
Moed and the specific responsibilities of the Leviim,
that is, being like an honor guard around the holy areas and
singing in the regular services.
However in a famous passage, the Rambam explains the full
meaning of their role. At the end of Hilchos Shmittah
Veyovel (13,12-13) the Rambam writes: "Why did the Levi
not get [a portion] in the inheritance of Eretz Yisroel and
in the [war] spoils? Because he was separated to serve
Hashem, in service [in the Beis Hamikdash] and to teach His
upright ways and holy laws to the masses as it says, `They
will teach Your laws to Yaakov and Your Torah to Yisroel'
(Devorim 33,10). Therefore they were distanced from
the normal ways of the world . . . and they do not earn for
themselves with their physical strength. Rather they are the
legion of Hashem, as it says, `Hashem will bless His legion'
(Ibid. 33,11) and He, blessed is He, earns for
That is for Levi, but a life of dedication to Hashem is not
the exclusive, inherited portion of Levi, but rather it is
accessible to all. In a passage that throws out a tempting
challenge to all, the Rambam continues: "And not just the
tribe of Levi, but each and every person, from among anyone
in the world, whose spirit has moved him and whose
understanding has led him to stand before Hashem and to serve
and worship Him, to know Him, and who will go straight like
Hashem made him and cast off of his neck the yoke of the
multitude of calculations that most men seek, such a one is
sanctified to the highest degree, holy of holies, and Hashem
will be his portion and inheritance forever and will provide
him in this world with enough to satisfy him, as He did for
the Cohanim and Leviim . . . "
Though this is not obligatory on anyone except the Cohanim
and Leviim, everyone understands that this degree of
dedication represents the highest aspiration of every Jew who
has any connection to Torah. Even though there is no
commandment from Hashem to require such a high degree of
dedication, nonetheless the powerful attraction that the
ideal of "standing before Hashem" holds makes it something
that almost everyone in yeshiva considers at one point and
some try to live, to the extent that they are able to fulfill
its demanding conditions.
As we look around at the world (as little as we can get away
with) and see what it is like, with the tremendous breakdown
in respect for human life as shown in government-sanctioned
assisted suicide, abortion, mass murder and suicide bombings,
it seems that the contrast to the Torah ideal could not be
starker and sharper, and we give thanks that He chose us from
all the nations and gave us His Torah.
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