The Leviim shall be Mine – I am Hashem.
Meshech Chochmah: A well-known halachic distinction differentiates between the holiness of objects. It bases that distinction upon their proximity to some item of intrinsic kedushah/ holiness. An accessory to kedushah must itself be treated with kedushah and elevated respect. But that which serves the accessory – an accessory to an accessory, if you will – does not require the reverential treatment of a single or primary accessory. The primary accessory cannot be casually disposed of, but requires sequestering or burial; the secondary accessory does not.
Tefillin, for example, possess intrinsic holiness because of the Names of G-d they contain, both the scrolls and even the black leather boxes in with those scrolls are inserted. A bag designated for tefillin is a primary accessory, and is treated itself like a holy object. A second bag into which the tefillin bag is placed is a secondary accessory, and not treated with kedushah.
We can make a case for our parshah being the source of this distinction. Both Kohanim and Leviim serve in the Mishkan and Beis HaMikdosh, places of great intrinsic kedushah. A key difference between them is that Kohanim are employed in the direct service of the mishkan. That puts them essentially in the position of primary accessories to kedushah. Leviim, however, are described as “given to Aharon and his sons,” i.e. they are accessories to the Kohanim who are themselves accessories. As secondary accessories, they are not treated as possessing kedushah.
This is exactly how they are treated. The Torah commands, “Holy they will be” in reference to the Kohanim. A kohen’s daughter, possessed of this kedushah, becomes disqualified from eating ma’aser if she participates in an illicit union. Ironically, a Levi’s daughter who does the same does not become disqualified. Tosafos explains that the kedushah of the Kohen (and hence his daughter) is one that physically consecrates. When this kedushah is sullied and violated, it disappears entirely. She becomes disqualified even from eating maaser, which is available even to the Levi. On the other hand, the lesser specialness vouchsafed a Levi is hardier. When his daughter violates it, it does not disappear completely.
The key difference is that the Kohen’s position acts like real kedushah. As a primary accessory to essential kedushah, he enjoys a position that behaves like other forms of kedushah . What the Levi enjoys as a secondary accessory is not really kedushah in the same sense. It is a function of status, not kedushah. It does not vanish when mistreated.
In transporting the various components of the mishkan – all of which enjoyed kedushah – the Leviim generally moved them through wagons. Thus, the wagons became primary accessories, but the Leviim did not. The Kehas family was the exception. They bore the most important utensils on their shoulders – but only after those utensils were placed in covers. Those covers became primary accessories, and the Leviim again acted only as secondary accessories.
The strongest indication of that the difference in status of Kohanim and Leviim translates into kedushah or lack thereof comes from the way their relationship with Hashem is described. G-d is called, “Hashem, their Elokim,” regarding the Kohanim; He is simply called “Hashem” when speaking of the Leviim. Now, the four-letter Name of G-d does not take a possessive. One cannot speak of “my Hashem.” This is not so in regard to Elokim/ G-d, where the Torah in fact does utilize phrases like, zeh keli/ “this is my G-d.” The use of the possessive in relation to the Kohanim (“…their Elokim”) tells us of a closer relationship and bond between Kohanim and HKBH than can exist with Leviim. That closer relationship results in real kedushah.
- Based on Meshech Chochmah, Bamidbar 3:45 ↑
- Those of the head also bear the Name of Hashem, through the letter shin emblazoned on them. But even the tefillin of the arm are treated as items of intrinsic kedushah. See Biur Halachah 42:3 s.v. tefillin chad zimna ↑
- Bamidbar 3:9 ↑
- Vayikra 21:6 ↑
- Bechoros 47A s.v. de-tanya ↑
- Vayikra 20:6 ↑
- Shemos 15:2 ↑