Headlines »

October 17, 2020 – 11:34 pm | 21 views

“Let us make a name for ourselves,” was the motto of the building campaign for the tower of Babel. It was several hundred years after the great biblical flood had laid waste to humanity and the people wanted something grandiose to celebrate. The ten survivors that had emerged from the …

Read the full story »
Parsha Insights

Where Biblical law and Torah tale is brought vividly to life

Concepts

The Jewish perspective on topical and controversial subjects

Life Cycle

Probing for meaning in our journey and its milestones.

Yearly Cycle

Discover depth and mystique in the annual Jewish festivals

Rabbi’s Desk

Seeking life’s lessons in news items and current events

Home » Re'e

Re’e: The Loan, the Escort and the Attachment

Submitted by on August 26, 2005 – 1:15 amNo Comment | 2,295 views

Remembering the Levite

In the course of this Parsha, the Torah exhorts us no fewer than six times to share our blessings with the tribe of Levi. We are reminded not only to share with the Levites but also to remember them and, furthermore, never to forget them. It is uncommon for the Torah to repeat itself so many times and then to warn us against forgetting the oft-repeated commandment. (1)

This commandment seems on the surface no different from the generic commandment to give charity, yet by repeating it so many times the Torah conveys a unique sense of urgency about this Mitzvah, thereby attributing a greater significance to it. What is the significance of the Levitic tribe and why is it so special to remember them?

Putting Soul First

G-d entrusted us with the mission of bringing heaven down to earth. To this end, we have a body and a soul. The soul is a veritable part of G-d. The body is a host, a medium through which the soul expresses itself. Through the body a Jew pursues a life of materialism. We go to school, earn a degree, pursue a career, earn a living and interact with family and friends.

The purpose is not the pursuit itself, but the creation of a forum through which our environment can be infused with the sanctity of our soul. The body is only an escort; the soul is the center of attention. (2)

Unfortunately it is often possible to forget our mandate and misconstrue our physical pursuit as an end in and of itself. We lose sight of our mission and view the pursuit of physical luxury as the purpose of our existence. To avoid this misconception, we must remain constantly vigilant.

Enter the Tribe of Levi. It was their mandate to remind the Jewish people of their supernal mission. The Levites performed sacred rituals in the Temple. They devoted their lives to divine worship and were a source of guidance to the nation. This is the inner meaning of the Torah’s exhortation to remember the Levite, remember the message that the Levite imparts.

The very existence of the Levite was an affirmation of this message, so much so, that the message is reflected in the very letters of the Hebrew word, Levi. The letters of this word comprise the etymological root of three other Hebrew words. The three words are “Milve,” “Livuy” and “Yilave,” translated as “loan,” “escort” and “attachment.”

The “Loan” Connotation

The tribe of Levi reminds us that our physical trappings and pursuits, are merely on loan. G-d allows us to engage our physical world but only so that we might fulfill his mission. The wealth that we amass and the homes that we build must all be repaid in the form of using them for the worship of G-d. This is the first reminder embedded in the Hebrew name Levi. (2)

The “Escort” Connotation

We must therefore ensure that our physical engagements never become our primary pursuit. They must “escort” our purpose, but they must never become our purpose. (3)

By way of analogy, let us imagine a nation on parade, attachment - innerstreamescorting their king home upon his return from a journey. Loyal citizens marched, roving bands played music, performing artists entertained the crowds and festive banners were displayed, all in the king’s honor. As the crowds gathered, the growing swell reached well beyond capacity.

The sea of humanity tragically crushed many underfoot but the revelers remained largely unaware of this and the festivities continued unmarred. The parade continued for hours and finally reached the palace gates. The crowd parted to create passage and the royal mount strode regally through the gates.

At that moment someone noticed that the royal steed was riderless. Somewhere along the parade’s route the king had fallen from his perch and was trampled by the overwhelming crowd. In the joy of the moment, the fall went unnoticed and the escorts arrived at their destination without the escorted.

The purpose of an escort is to serve the escorted, but in this case, the escorts tragically  forgot the escorted and placed the emphasis upon themselves.

In a similar vein, our physical experience is designed to “escort,” or to serve, a spiritual purpose. However, we tend to get carried away by the trappings and excitement of the escort and forget the main purpose, hence the second reminder embedded in the Hebrew name Levi.

The “Attachment” Connotation

Recognizing that the body and its trappings are only on loan and that their purpose is to serve or “escort” the soul, we come to understand that our main purpose in life is to attach ourselves to G-d. (4)

We must learn that the purpose of building careers is to bring G-d into the professional arena. The purpose of earning a living is to provide our children with a Jewish education. The purpose of taking vacation is to afford more time to study Torah and perform Mitzvos.

Caught up in the excitement of the physical experience, it is easy to forget the Levites’ message and the implicit connotations of their name. The Torah therefore exhorts us not only to remember their message but also to ensure that we never forget.

Footnotes

  1. Deuteronomy 12: 12, 18, 19 and 16: 11, and 19
  2. See Hayom Yom 5 Iyar. “The Baal Shem Tov taught that a soul descends to this world and lives for seventy or eighty years in order to perform a single favor for another Jew.” (Kehos Publication Society, 1943)
  3. Ethics of Our Fathers 3: 16. http://www.chabad.org/library/article.asp?AID=2019. See commentary of Penei Yehoshua (R. Yaakov Yusha Falik, Frankfurt, 1781 – 1956)
  4. The link between the name Levi and the escort connotation was advanced by Rabbi Chaim Tirar of Chernowitz (1760 – 27 Kislev 1817) in his commentary on the Torah , B’er Mayim Chayim, p. 111b, but he applied it in a different context.
  5. The matriarch Leah, who named her third son Levi, knew prophetically that her husband was destined to marry four wives and sire twelve sons. This meant that each wife was destined to have three sons and that she had now given birth to her full allotment of sons. (In the end Leah gave birth to six sons and the others gave birth to two each.) Upon the birth of her third son, she hoped that her husband Jacob, who loved Rachel more than Leah, would now come to regard her in a more favorable light. In the hopes that he would now attach himself to her, she named her third son Levi, which means attachment.
Tags: , ,

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also Comments Feed via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.