The Elevation of the Tribe of Levi

The first three parashios of Sefer Bamidbar discuss, among other topics, the elevation of the tribe of Levi to a special position of service. Parashios Bamidbar and Naso relate Hashem’s command to Moshe to appoint the Leviim to this position, and the specific duties of each of the three major Levite families. Parashas Behaalosecha relates the ceremony inaugurating the Leviim into their special position.
Hashem tells Moshe (Bamidbar 3:5): “Bring near the tribe of Levi and station it before Aharon the Kohen, and they shall serve [under] him.” Hashem then describes various domains of service. Afterwards, Hashem says to Moshe (Bamidbar 3:11): “And, behold, I have taken the Levites from among the Children of Israel, in place of every firstborn, …, and the Levites shall be Mine.” Bamidbar Rabbah 3:4, expounding on the phase “and, behold,” describes Hashem as saying: “I am now adding to the favor I show them – behold, with joy.”
The Maggid gives the following beautiful explanation of this Midrash. Suppose a man with two sons initially gave the older one a larger portion of his assets, but later decided to favor the younger son instead. He then must deduct from the older son’s portion to give to the younger one. Hashem, however, operates differently. Hashem is unlimited in what He can provide. So when He decides to elevate one group of people, He need not deduct from the portions of the others. He simply gives the chosen group more, while allowing the others to keep all they have. As the Gemara in Chullin 60a says, Hashem gives without taking away.
Initially, while showing favor to all segments of the Jewish People, Hashem granted the firstborn a special measure of sanctity, for they were designated to take charge of the service carried out in His sanctuary. But later the firstborn became unfit for this role, because of their participation in the making of the golden calf, and Hashem transferred the role to the Leviim. Yet, in doing so, He did not detract from what He had given the firstborn. Thus, to this day, the firstborn must be redeemed, because Hashem never took away their sanctity. Rather, He simply raised the Leviim to a still higher level of sanctity. Hence Hashem, so to speak, rejoiced in what He had done – for He had arranged for the Leviim to reap a gain without causing the firstborn to suffer any loss.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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