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The House of Levi

By: Rav Yechezkel Yakovson

Parshat Shemot
Rav Yechezkel Yakovson
(translated by Rabbi Reuven Ungar)

From the volume of Shmot and onwards, the tribe of Levi emerges as the most dominant and influential of the tribes. The mantle of leadership is placed upon the shoulders of Moshe, Aharon and Miraim- the children of Amram and Yocheved from the House of Levi. Subsequent to the sin of the Golden Calf, the entire Levite tribe replaces the first-born in regards to performing the divine service. The verse in Parshat Zot HaBracha encourages the Levites to instruct the Jewish People in the laws and teachings of the Torah.

This positive mission is difficult to reconcile with the harsh words of criticism that Yaakov delivered to Shimon and Levi in Parshat Vayechi. Yaakov referred to the violent natures of Shimon and Levi, cured their anger and called for their dispersal amongst the various sections of the Jewish People. Yet, within a short period of time the Levites have assumed the leadership of the Jewish Nation!

Apparently, Levi paid careful attention to the words of rebuke from Yaakov. Levi internalized the message. Yaakov remarked that Levi possesses the quality of zealotry; a fire that rages within the recesses of his soul. Until that period of time, this tendency was manifested in inappropriate times and places (towards the inhabitants of Shchem, the mistreatment of Yosef).

Once Levi became cognizant of this trait, he could utilize it for sacred purposes. Levi accepted the criticism of his misuse of zealotry. Consequent to this realization, enthusiasm (hitlahavut) and dedication have become the hallmarks of the tribe of Levi. The zealotry that the Levites displayed to counter the sin of the Golden Calf saved the Jewish People. What a sea change in the attitude towards the Levites from the words of Yaakov in Parshat Vayechi to the warm blessings of Moshe in Parshat Zot HaBracha!

This concept has relevance for us as well. People differ from each other in their characters and tendencies. All of us contain dominant tendencies and character traits (middot). Some middot are considered positive; others are viewed as negative. Yet, they all have a place in the Service of Hashem.

Our initial task is to identify and become familiar with our particular qualities and tendencies. Afterwards we must control, refine and direct our energies towards Service of Hashem. This is the intention of the prayer “and place our portion (chelkaynu- the specific qualities of each individual) in Your Torah”.


Categorized under: 1: Parshat Shavua > Shmot