The Levites of Today: A simple thank you?

A rabbi and student studying in prewar Europe.
A rabbi and student studying in prewar Europe.

This past week, I had the great honor and merit to attend Isralight‘s annual rabbinical conference held in the heart of Jerusalem. From community rabbis, to teachers, education center directors and Yeshiva rebbeim, we formed a small  but powerful group of rabbis willing to make a difference in the education of our students and congregants. The sixteen rabbis in attendance studied for seven days with three of the most inspiring rabbis influencing the world of Jewish education today: Rabbis David Aaron, Binny Freedman, and Sam Shor.

Sitting around the table having a casual conversation, I tried to find the common denominator between us all. It couldn’t be the way we dressed or the kippas we wore. We all work in different cities and countries, and some even speak with different accents. So I threw the question out and one of my colleagues answered jokingly, “we don’t make any money!” We all laughed, but I stopped to ponder the depth of this seemingly humorous statement through the lens of our Torah.

I threw the question out and one of my colleagues answered jokingly, “we don’t make any money!”

In this weeks Parashah, we read about the portioning out of the Land of Israel. The Jewish people, after years of slavery and wandering in the desert, are about to enter their homeland for the first time in their history. Each tribe is given a plot of land to settle, build, and cultivate. All except for one.

The Levites are not offered any single plot of land in this new homeland. Rather the Levites are marked for a greater destiny – not one of plowing and harvesting, or trading and bartering – but one of spreading the word of the Living G-d of Israel to His People.  The Levites have nowhere to call home, for it is all their home. They happily accepted upon themselves the task of being a tribe of wandering teachers and educators, never having much to call their own, but ultimately reaping the reward of shaping the educational and spiritual future of their fellow brothers and sisters of Israel.

Today, thousands of years after we first stepped our bare and wary feet upon the fresh and holy soil of the Land of Israel, it is not only the Levites who have this glorious oppurtunity. The Rambam writes (Laws of Shemitta and Yovel, Chapter 13):

…לפיכך הובדלו מדרכי העולם, לא עורכין מלחמה כשאר ישראל ולא נוחלין ולא זוכין לעצמן בכח גופן אלא הם חיל השם, שנאמר ברך ה’ חילו, והוא ברוך הוא זוכה להם שנאמר אני חלקך ונחלתך. ולא שבט לוי בלבד, אלא כל איש ואיש מכל באי העולם אשר נדבה רוחו אותו והבינו מדעו להיבדל לעמוד לפני ה’ לשרתו ולעובדו לדעה את ה’ והלך ישר כמו שעשהו האלוקים ופרק מעל צווארו עול החשבונות הרבים אשר בקשו בני האדם, הרי זה נתקדש קדש קדשים ויהיה ה’ חלקו ונחלתו לעולם ולעולמי עולמים

(Free translation): Therefore they are seperated from the rest of the world, they do not fight wars like the rest of Israel and they do not inherit land and they do not merit for themselves from the toil of their own bodies, rather the are the soldiers of Hashem, as it is said “Bless Hashem his soldiers”, and He, Blessed Be He, gives them merit, as it says, “I am your portion and inheritance”. And not only the tribe of Levi, rather every man from all walks of the world, whom his mind has caused him to separate in order to stand in front of Hashem, and serve Hashem; to know Hashem, and to walk straight like Elokim made him; and he removes from himself the burdens and calculations that the rest of mankind pursue; this person has become holy of holies, and Hashem will be his portion and inheritance forever and ever.

Every human being has the potential and ability to separate themselves from the foolish pursuits of the rest of the world, and become a true leader and warrior for Hashem, the G-d of Israel. Yet there are those who have done so already – our own rabbis and teachers that have helped us grow as Jews.

Those same rabbis and teachers who choose to leave behind their law degrees and accounting jobs, and instead choose the pulpit. Those who decide the small home and even smaller paycheck at the end of each month are worth the Divine mission they are serving. Those who decide, along with their courageous wives, that a life of true happiness is not about money or cars, but rather about the joy they see on the faces of those who look up to them for guidance and direction. Those brave and few spiritual doctors, who never sleep a full night, for they are always “on call”, to answer the phonecall of a desperate Jew or stand beside the hospital bed of a new couple who has just given birth.

Perhaps, I may propose a preposterous idea – maybe we can take some time this week, Parashat Pinchas, and utter a simple thank you – to our rabbis, rebbetzins, and teachers who have sacrificed all they have in order to make us who we are today. It can make a world of a difference to them.

Shabbat Shalom!

[This article is dedicated to the speedy recovery of my rabbi and inspiration, Rabbi Moishe Leider shlit”a. Thank you for helping me become who I am!]

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