Volume 4 Issue 34
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
The Book of Numbers begins with the Torah's command to take a census of the
Jewish Nation. Each male over twenty years old from every tribe was to be
counted. However, the tribe of Levi was singled out to remain uncounted in
the national census. "You shall not count the tribe of Levi, and you shall
not take a census of them from among the Children of Israel" (Numbers
1:49). Levi was indeed counted, separately and differently. Its children
were counted from a month old as opposed to twenty years old. They were
counted at a separate occasion, and their numbers were not included in the
national census. Why did Levi merit such distinctive treatment? The
Midrash tells us that Hashem specially designated them. They were
considered as the King's special legions. During the sin of the Golden
Calf, when so many of their fellow Jews served the idol, the tribe of Levi
was stalwart in its opposition. Therefore Levi was chosen to serve in the
Temple in the place of the first-borns, who were originally designated to
perform the service. The Midrash quotes the Al-mighty. "The Levites made
themselves close to me, and I will be close to them."
The Chidushei HaRim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Alter of Gur, is bothered. "Surely,
there were some other Jews who did not serve the Golden Calf. Why, then,
was Levi singled out to serve in the Mishkan? Why didn't Hashem select
anyone who did not serve the Golden Calf?"
Adam Parker Glick, President of the Jack Parker Corporation, told me the
Not too long after Nikita Khrushchev's rise to power in the former Soviet
Union in the 1950s, he addressed a large gathering of the communist
faithful. He began to excoriate the crimes and misdeeds of his
predecessor, Joseph Stalin, and promised a new era of freedom and
civility. As he was decrying the purges, crackdowns, and horrific crimes
of his predecessor, all of a sudden a meek voice from the back of the room
"Mr. Chairman, where were you when all this was happening? Why didn't you
It was apparent that Khrushchev heard the question. His face turned red as
he retorted in a menacing voice, "Who said that?"
He screamed louder. "Who is the one who asked that? I want to see him NOW!"
A dead silence filled the room. No one moved.
Then a sly smile spread over Khrushchev's face. He looked toward the back
of the large room. In slow and calculated staccato spurts he began to
shout, "I know exactly where you are! I know exactly where you are standing!"
The nervous silence was unbearable, as the large audience awaited the fate
of the poor man.
"I know where you are standing," repeated the feared leader of the world's
largest communist country.
"You are standing in the exact spot that I stood when Stalin used to make
The Chidushei HaRim explains that Levi did much more than passively not
serve the idol. When Moshe cried Whoever is on the side of Hashem join
with me!" the only collective group who responded were the Levites.
Many Jews may have refrained from worshipping the calf, the Gerer Rebbe
explains, but only those who stood up and protested deserve to direct the
spirituality of the nation. While silence may sometimes remove the cloak
of culpability, it will never crown you with the strength of leadership.
Rabbi Mordecai Kamenetzky
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