Rabbi Naftali Kassorla
Parshat Bamidbar 5778
The D’var Torah for this week is dedicated in memory of:
לע״נ סבי ומורי נחום בן פנחס הלוי ז״ל
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With this week's Parsha we begin a new book in the Torah - Sefer Bamidbar. The central focus of this book is the laws and history of the Mishkan as the Jews travel through the desert.
The Ramban points out that there are many interesting parallels between the description of the Mishkan and that of the revelation at Har Sinai. From this comparison we learn that the Mishkan, the Beit Hamikdash, and later the community synagogue are meant to serve as a reminder of the amazing experience the Jews had at Har Sinai. When the Torah was given, the Shechina (Divine Presence) came down and temporarily rested among the nation. In the Mishkan (as well as the Beit Hamikdash and the shul) the Shechinah rests permanently, and we have the opportunity to re-enter the experience we had at the giving of the Torah on a daily basis.
Perhaps we can take the Ramban's concept a little further. The beginning of the Parsha deals with the counting of the nation, yet Hashem specifically commands Moshe: "but you shall not count the tribe of Levi, and you shall not take a census of them among the children of Israel."
At first glance this is very interesting – why does Hashem give the command not to count the tribe of Levi? Are they not part of the nation as well? Rashi explains that it was because this tribe chose not to sin with the golden calf at Har Sinai, and therefore they are not to be counted with the rest of the nation, but rather as a separate entity. We can derive from here that since the Leviim did not sin with the golden calf, they are considered to be of a distinct, higher standing.
Immediately after this commandment, Hashem directs Moshe to entrust the tribe of Levi with the assembling, disassembling and transporting of the Mishkan. One might ask why it was that the tribe of Levi was specifically chosen. In what were they meritorious, and what connection does it have with the Mishkan?
However, according to the aforementioned Ramban and Rashi, the connection between the Leviim and the work in the Mishkan becomes even clearer. As we know, the nation reached incredible heights at the revelation by Har Sinai. To have Hashem's divine presence revealed was the most seminal moment of holiness in this world and its power echoes through the generations to this very day.
According to our tradition, the Nation reached the same level as Adam Harishon before the sin with the Tree of Knowledge, almost meriting the coming of Mashiach. Yet these hopes were dashed when the nation sinned with the golden calf, thus causing the nation to tumble from their lofty level.
But one tribe remained steadfast in their devotion to Hashem; this was the tribe of Levi. This tribe, in withstanding from sinning, retained that holiness which was reached at the revelation.
Perhaps this is the reason that Levi was chosen. Since they were the only ones who did not sin at Har Sinai – and therefore the only ones who did not fall from their high level – it stands to reason that only they could do the service in the Mishkan, this "mini-Har Sinai." Levi would serve as the constant bearers and reminders of that divine revelation that was witnessed by all of Klal Yisrael at Har Sinai.
We see that in choosing Levi, Hashem is once again highlighting the connection between Har Sinai and the Mishkan, the Beit Hamikdash, and the Shul. We may often take for granted the level of holiness that we can achieve by entering our local shuls, and the proper respect with which they are to be treated.
With Shavuot upon us, it is quite appropriate that this should be our lesson carrying us in. For while we did not consciously experience the giving of the Torah personally, we have the incredible opportunity to return back to the level that was reached there, every time we enter a shul to daven or learn. If we truly take this idea to heart and behave in shul as though we are visiting the shechinah, we too can be on the level of the Leviim and merit to see the return of the Beit Hamikdash where we can once again do the Divine service, speedily in our days.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach