ואתה הפקד את הלוים על משכן העדת
You shall appoint Leviim over the Tabernacle of the Testimony (Bamidbar 1:50).
The Baal HaTurim points out that the word hafkeid, appoint, appears one other time in Tanach, in Tehillim (109:6), “Hafkeid alav rasha ve’satan yaamod al yemino – Appoint a wicked man over him, and let an adversary stand at his right.” He explains that this is based on the saying that a person is not appointed as an officer down below if he is not already considered a rasha in the upper spheres, and that is why it uses the same word, hafkeid, in both places; the Leviim in Bamidbar became officers, and the pasuk in Tehillim refers to reshaim.
Are we saying that all people appointed to a position of authority are wicked and evil? Also, even though the common word hafkeid is used, how does this relate to Leviim? Does this mean that by nature all Leviim are wicked?
The Gemara (Yoma 22b) tells us in the name of Rav Huna: “How little does he whom Hashem supports need to grieve or trouble himself. Shaul sinned once and brought calamity upon him; David sinned twice and did not bring evil upon him.”
Although David committed two sins, he still kept his throne; apparently, he had Hashem’s support. Shaul, on the other hand, although he committed only one sin, lacked Hashem’s support and lost his throne.
If Hashem does not play favorites, as it says in Devarim (32:4), “A G-d of faith without iniquity, righteous and fair is He,” then why did He punish Shaul for committing only one sin and overlook David’s two sins? This question is perhaps compounded by the fact that Shaul was a greater tzaddik than David. (See Rashi on Mo’ed Katan 16b.)
Although there are other answers given (see HaMaor HaGadol al HaShas for the Vilna Gaon’s famous answer), Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz, in his sefer Yaaros Devash, gives an explanation that fits right into our discussion. By nature, Shaul was an ish tov, a good man, who always had a pleasant demeanor when dealing with others, even those who had been disrespectful to him. However, a king is not allowed to be mochel on his kavod, as any perceived lack of strength from the king empowers the wicked. David, on the other hand, was called the admoni, the red one, meaning that an aggressive streak ran through him. Yet, he overcame his nature. This enabled him to act judiciously, with the correct posture – benevolent to the upright and cruel to the wicked. As the pasuk (II Shmuel 8:15) writes, “Vayehi David oseh mishpat u’tzedakah le’chol amo – David administered justice and kindness to his entire people.” In the words of Rav Yonasan, there was “mishpat la’reshaim u’tzedakah la’tzaddikim – justice to the wicked and kindness to the righteous.”
Hashem selected and retained David as king – despite his two sins – because he had the temperament and strength to deal with all situations. Having overcome his bad nature, he was able to maintain control by using the necessary harshness a king must possess.
Rav Aharon Tzvi Taksin (cited in Ke’Motzei Shalal Rav, p. 42) explains that this is the intent of the saying mentioned in the Baal HaTurim, that a person is not appointed as an officer down below if he is not already considered a rasha in the upper spheres. In other words, a man who was made wicked above – he was born with a tendency toward aggression – but through his own power, he overcame and changed his nature, is the most suitable person to act as an officer below. Such an individual commands respect and possesses the moral strength and fortitude to make the difficult decisions expected of a ruler.
This explains the use of the common word hafkeid – for the Leviim as well as the rasha. The men of Shevet Levi were created with bad characteristics and tendencies. They used that nature to act mercilessly when killing the Jews who sinned with the Golden Calf. They did not hesitate, even though this meant killing their own family members, as it says (Devarim 33:9), “The one who said of his father and mother ‘I have not favored him.’” But they had the power to change their natural tendencies when necessary.
Just as David was chosen because he overcame his natural harshness, and as a king, he possessed both qualities – soft and hard – so, too, were the Leviim chosen. They would make effective shotrim, officers, because they, too, knew how to manage their nature.
When necessary they could be soft as butter, but when called for they could be hard as iron.