Paging Dr. Levy...By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
This chapter describes the returnees to Jerusalem in the time of Ezra, paralleling the account in Nehemiah chapter 11. We are told that all of Israel had their genealogical records (presumably lost in the Assyrian exile of the northern kingdom), but Judah was exiled to Babylonia, which is why Ezra had access to their records. He recounts the returnees to Jerusalem in the first wave, who accompanied Zerubavel. We are also told that, in addition to Israelites (from the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin), kohanim (priests), Levites and Nesinim (Gibeonites), there were also members of the Tribes of Ephraim of Menashe. (They may not have been in great enough numbers to count their families as separate units, but there were definitely members of all Tribes in Judah when the northern kingdom was exiled. It’s comparable to the assumption that there are people from all 50 states in New York at any given time. If anything, it would be surprising if there weren’t!)
Among the kohanim we find Achituv, who is called the governor of the House of G-d. This does not mean that he was the Kohein Gadol (High Priest). He wasn’t. Rather, he was a high-ranking administrator of the Temple. Also noteworthy is that the heads of the priestly families are called “mighty warriors” in the service of G-d.
Among the prominent Levites, we find descendants of Korah, who rebelled against the leadership of Moses in Numbers chapter 16. The descendants of Korach were placed in charge of guarding the entrances to the Sanctuary of the Temple. This was a hereditary position among descendants of Levi’s son Kehos, although it was originally held by Pinchas (Phineas), who stood up to defend G-d’s honor in Numbers chapter 25. (The Radak cites the tradition that Pinchas lived an extraordinarily long life and the position came to be highly identified with him.)
We are also told here that there were 212 gatekeepers, but the account in Nehemiah chapter 11 says that there were 172. (The Metzudas Dovid tells us that the number in Nehemiah only covers the Temple mount, but that the number in Chronicles also includes those who guarded the courtyard.) We are likewise informed that King David and the prophet Samuel instituted the system of “mishmaros” (“watches”), in which the Levite families took weekly duty rotations. The Levites handled virtually all the Temple functions, including guarding it and unlocking it in the morning. For the week of their rotation, the Levites were on duty 24/7. There were also four permanent gatekeepers. The Levites would care for the vessels used in the Temple service, as well as the flour, wine and oil used in the sacrifices. They were responsible for the show bread that was placed on the Table each week and for the spices, but only a kohein (priest) could actually mix the incense. The family heads who were singers were exempted from other duties and lived in special quarters in the Temple because they were always “on call.”
Verses 35-44 recap the lineage of King Saul. This was done more fully in the previous chapter, but its repetition here is hardly surprising. The next chapter, which begins the historical narrative, starts with King Saul, so this recap provides an appropriate segue.