Posted on March 23, 2011
by Alexandra Bicks
Shabbat Shalom! This week’s parasha, Bamidbar, is one of the most famous in the whole Torah because it consists mainly of a very detailed list of numbers (hence the English name for this Sefer, the book of Numbers). This list is a census that God has commanded to be taken of all of the males age twenty or older in all of B’nai Yisrael. Thus, we get a listing of the complete populations of each tribe as well as the detailed locations of their camps. But, there is one tribe that is not included in the census- the Levi’im. What is the reason for this exclusion?
For once, the answer to this question is actually given in the Torah. God explains to Moshe that the Levi’im are all to be set aside for their own special function; they will work for Aharon and help to take care of the Mishkan. Under normal circumstances, the descendants of the firstborn tribe, Reuven, would receive this honor. However, the Levi’im are beloved by God because they did not participate in the affair of the Egel Ha’Zahav (The Golden Calf); everyone else, even those descendants of the firstborn, was guilty of idolatry. The Levi’im have thus demonstrated the ideal qualities of the firstborn- they are leaders, and they are loyal to God even (especially) when it is the unpopular thing to do. This is why God states, “Va’ani hineh lakachti et-ha levi’im mitoch B’nei Yisrael..ki li kol b’chor” “And I, behold, I have taken the Levi’im from among the children of Israelâ€¦ for all the first-born are Mine.” The Levi’im are now the true firstborn and become able to perform a holy task.
Just as the Levi’im are the firstborn of God, so is the entire nation of Israel a firstborn nation. The Jewish people are considered the am kadosh, and they brought about the beginnings of Western civilization to the rest of the world. The modern-day state of Israel remains the “firstborn” democratic state in the whole Middle East. As Jews, it is our responsibility to serve as role models, to act upon the teachings of God as best we can in our day-to-day lives. Then, we will truly all be the firstborn of God, leaders and teachers, healers and tzaddikim. And maybe then we can help to bring about the holiest thing of all-shalom.