By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
30 Sivan 5764 - June 18, 2004
After the rebellion of Korach, the Torah reinforces the
special status of the tribe of Levi and the Kohanim. It will be their
responsibility to ensure that all the tasks in the Mishkan are performed
correctly, and that the sanctity of the Mishkan is maintained:
And Hashem said to Aharon, “You and your sons and your father’s house with you
will bear the transgression of the Sanctuary, and you and your sons with you
shall bear the transgression of your priesthood. And also draw near with you
your brethren the tribe of Levi, your father’s tribe, that they be joined to
you and minister to you. And you and your sons with you shall be before the
Tent of Testimony. And they will safeguard your watch and the watch of the
entire Tent; however they will not approach the holy utensils or the altar,
lest they die, both they and you. And they shall be joined to you, and
safeguard the watch of the Tent of Meeting for all the worship of the Tent;
and the layman shall not approach you. And you shall safeguard the watch of
holiness and the watch of the altar, so that there will no longer be wrath
against the Children of Israel” (Bamidbar 18:1-5).
The Sages teach that in the last two verses — and safeguard the watch of the
Tent of Meeting and you shall safeguard the watch of holiness — there are two
mitzvot, one positive and one negative (Mechilta; Sifre Zuta 292 l. 9; Midrash
HaGadol). Sefer HaChinuch (ascribed to either R. Aharon HaLevi or R. Pinchas
HaLevi of Barcelona, mid-13th Century) writes:
• Commandment 388: that the Kohanim and Leviim are commanded to guard the
Sanctuary and walk about it continually, every single night, the entire night
… the Kohanim within, and the Leviim without.
• Commandment 391: not to stop the guarding of the Sanctuary.
As Rambam explains (Laws of the Temple, chapter 8), there were 24 sentry posts
throughout the Temple precincts, 3 manned by Kohanim and 21 by Leviim. An
additional guard, called the “Man of the Temple Mount,” circulated among the
24 posts to verify that the guards were awake. As he approached, the guard was
required to greet the Man of the Temple Mount with the words, “Peace unto
you!” If the guard did not do so, the man was permitted to strike him with his
stick to rouse him, or even to set fire to his clothing if he had fallen
Although the above passage is cited as the source of these commandments, these
concepts have been heard before. When the camp was first set up, we were
informed (at the beginning of the book of Bamidbar) of the Levites’ role in
guarding the Sanctuary. On the four sides of the Mishkan, between it and the
other tribes, the Levites encamped in four divisions. To the west was the
division of Gershon; to the south was the division of Kehat; to the north was
the division of Merari:
And those who encamp before the Mishkan to the front, before the Tent of
Meeting on the east, were Moshe and Aharon and his sons; they keep the watch
of the Sanctuary for the watch of the Children of Israel. And the layman who
approaches shall be put to death (3:38).
What is the purpose of this guarding? Certainly, it was not for security, as
Rambam says (loc. cit., par. 1):
There is no fear there of either enemies or of bandits.
In the view of Ibn Ezra (on 3:38), all the Leviim are encamped around the
Mishkan — and in particular Moshe, Aharon and the Kohanim are positioned in
front of the entrance to the Mishkan — to safeguard the Mishkan against
wrongful entry by anyone unqualified. The watch of the Sanctuary is for the
protection of the Sanctuary from transgression, not from danger.
Rambam, quoting the Midrash (Sifre Zuta, loc. cit., l. 10-11), gives a
different reason for the guarding:
Its guarding is nothing but honor for it. There is no comparison between a
palace that has sentries about it and a palace without sentries.
Sefer HaChinuch concurs that the guarding confers honor and distinction on the
Another perspective is found in Likutei Anshei Shem to 3:38. He cites a
central concept from the Kabbalah, that a “bestirring from below” (itaruta
diletata) gives rise to a “bestirring from above” (itaruta dile’eila). This
means that our behavior in the human realm is utilized by Hashem to bestow His
beneficence upon the universe. Every small act of sanctification, therefore,
sets a process in motion of cosmic magnitude.
An example of this can be found in the very beginning of the Turei Zahav
(commentary on the Shulchan Aruch by R. David ben Shmuel Halevi of Lvov,
1586-1667). There, the Shulchan Aruch, writing of the importance of a person’s
awaking with alacrity to serve the Creator, says, “he should awaken the dawn.”
The Turei Zahav explains this means that he should arouse himself first from
within and then the arousal from Above will follow; this initial internal
motivation is greater than when the motivation comes from without.
The same is true, says Likutei Anshei Shem, of the guarding in the Temple:
“As a result of their guarding, when they remain awake and oversee the Mishkan
from below, accordingly Hashem will also watch over them to guard the world,
that no misfortune befall them.”
They keep the watch of the Sanctuary for the watch of the Children of Israel…
And they safeguard the watch of the Tent of Meeting … so that there will no
longer be wrath against the Children of Israel. The guarding in the Sanctuary
by the Leviim effectuates the protection of the world by Hashem.
When we awaken to Hashem, He awakens to us.
(I would like once again to thank R. David Avraham Spektor of Bet Shemesh for
directing me to these sources.)
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
Our Sages viewed Korach's revolt as a controversy (machloket) that was not
for the sake of heaven.(Avot 5:19).
Over the course of the last
century, however, there was a machloket which appears to have been leshem
shamayim.. I refer to the issue of the proper Jewish response to the
Zionist effort, to the opportunity afforded the Jewish people to return to
Eretz Israel and rebuild Jewish society. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik saw a
foreshadowing of this controversy in the conflict between the biblical
Joseph and his brothers. He gives the following analysis:
With the founding of the
Mizrachi movement in 1901, a bitter controversy engulfed Orthodoxy. The
Religious Zionists sensed an ominous cloud on the horizon of the Jewish
communities of Eastern Europe, an impending cataclysm led by the forces of
secularism and anti-Semitism. A storm called modernity was sweeping away
all the obstacles that stood in its path. In this world, all professions
would be linked to an academic education and the centers of Jewish life
would move to America and Israel. However, the opponents of this approach
were blinded by the status quo in which the synagogues and study halls
were full and the traditional faithful constituted the bulk of the Jewish
people. They saw only the dangers in modernity and none of its
opportunities. Says the Rav: “In this controversy for the sake of heaven,
between the biblical Joseph and his brothers, God ruled in accordance with
Joseph that, ‘God did send me before you to preserve life’' (Gen. 45:5).
In our own day, the Creator of the world has ruled like Joseph of 1901 who
dreamed of a new land and new conditions. If the Joseph of 1901 had not
paved the way to Eretz Israel it would not have been possible to
transplant anew the world of Torah in the Holy Land.”
Surely 56 years of
ingathering and growth of the Jewish State should be enough to convince
those of us still tied to the gilded ghettos of America that their
rightful place now is at the side of their brothers and sisters in Israel.
“Shall your brothers go to war and will you sit here?” (Num. 32:6).
Rabbi Shubert Spero
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness , Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254