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Posted on May 25, 2017 (5777) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Count the sons of Levi[2]

Know that the place of shevet Levi among the rest of Klal Yisrael is similar to that of the Jewish people amongst the nations. Levi was a small tribe, charged with the important job of carrying the Ark of Hashem through a wilderness. In a broader sense, Klal Yisrael is a larger shevet Levi. It carries Hashem’s message into the world, spreading awareness of Him to all people.

The story of Jewish survival through the millennia is a conundrum. It can be understood only by hearing the Voice of Hashem, as He commands history itself, similar to His words about Levi, “Do not let the tribe… be cut off!”[3]

Chazal[4] note a tension between two phrases in a single verse[5] in our Haftorah. “The number of the Bnei Yisrael will be like the sand of the sea.” Sand is finite. Its grains may be difficult to count, but they can be. “Which cannot be measured nor counted.” This phrase implies impossibility, i.e. their numbers will be infinite. The gemara resolves the tension by assuming two different situations – the former, when Klal Yisrael does not follow Hashem’s Will; the latter when it does. We should not understand this as two, disjoint periods. Rather, the pasuk speaks of a single process, the way in which a small group of people will gain in influence until its message meets universal embrace.

In the earlier period – one in which the Jewish people as a whole do not live lives fully congruent with Hashem’s Will – we will still be blessed with many stellar individuals. The navi urges them not to despair. From their number, while initially limited, will develop an unstoppable momentum, that will in time envelop the entire world. The initial contribution is limited. But the navi assures us that this is temporary. At some point, the influence of G-d’s Word spreads explosively. Ultimately, the sense of this pasuk is not quantity, but quality. In time, the power of the Torah, spread by the Jewish people, becomes infinite.

We have certainly not arrived there yet. Yirmiyahu[6] famously wrote, “We became as orphans, without a father.” Mothers, apparently we have. The general difference between rachamei ha-av, the compassion of a father, and that of a mother, is clear. A mother fusses and dotes over her child, providing him or her with physical needs. She feeds and clothes and hugs. The compassion of a father looks more towards the future. He directs the child to where he should be ten years forward, to determining where he can most fully utilize his strengths. This requires vision. We have leaders today who can and do respond to the exigencies of the moment. They concern themselves with needs as they arise. But there are very few who address the lasting continuity of our Torah, and the fulfillment of the Jewish mission to the world.

There are other differences as well. In this world, in that moment of exalted insight as they finally left Egypt, they said, “This is my G-d and I will glorify Him.” In the future, however, Chazal[7] point out a changed expression. “They will say on that day, ‘Behold, this is our G-d.’”[8] This is further illuminated by a passage in the gemara.[9] “In the future, HKBH will make a circle for the righteous. He will sit among them in Gan Eden. Each one will point with his finger towards Him, as it says, ‘Behold, this is our G-d.’”

Here Chazal place our current situation in sharp contrast to a brighter future. At the moment, the best that a small number of people can do is say, “This is my G-d.” They speak only as individuals, and only after being touched by as small aspect of Hashem’s fullness, like an encounter with the Shechinah. The future will change that. People will say, “This is our G-d!” They will be conscious of being no longer isolated exceptions and individuals, but part of a much larger, dynamic group. They will be part of a circle, which will stand out from a much broader community – a universal recognition of Hashem without exception. The circle represents the idea of a harmonious gathering of all the different groups and factions that existed within our people until that day

On that day, all in that circle will point to a much fuller conception of Elokus, of Who Hashem is. All the questions and uncertainties about Who He is will disappear. So will all the mysteries, the unsolved questions about creation and the purpose of life.

This is the intent of Chazal elsewhere[10] as well, in looking at our parshah. “Why did He count them [Levi]? Because they are His royal order, and a King delights in His royal order. See, that they are the smallest of the shevatim. Why? Because they observe the face of the Shechinah …In the future, however, Hashem will reveal His Honor to all of Yisrael. On that day, people will say, “This is our G-d.”

At the moment, only special individuals can observe – at times – the Shechinah. Even this is overpowering to many; many do not survive. The number of these special people is small. All will change in the future, when Hashem’s promise of a fuller revelation of Himself will be fulfilled.

  1. Based on HaMedrash V’HaMaaseh, Bamidbar, by R. Yechezkel Libshitz zt”l
  2. Bamidbar 3:15
  3. Bamidbar 4:18
  4. Yoma 22B
  5. Hoshea 2:1
  6. Eichah 5:3
  7. Mechilta d’Rashbi 19:9
  8. Yeshaya 25:9
  9. Taanis 31A
  10. Tanchuma Bamidbar 17