The Power of the Leviim

Written by Rabbi Rudman, 10/6/2019

 The beginning of this weeks Parsha continues the discussion of the various aspects of the Leviim. We are taught how Aharon is to consecrate them[1], and then the ages of the beginning and end of their service[2]. These two ideas are clearly interrelated, and I would like to try to clarify certain ideas.


HaShem commands that the Leviim begin the study of their Avodah at the age of twenty-five, actually begin working at the age of thirty; and are to retire at the age of fifty. Rashi learns from the added words in the Pasuk[3], that their retirement is only from the carrying of the Mishkan, but they continue to close the gates, accompany the Korbanos with song, and load the wagons. If there are gates to be closed, then obviously they also need to be opened. Why does Rashi specify closing the gates?

In a famous Mishnah in Pirkei Avos[4], we learn the strengths that a person acquires at each age. Forty is Binah, and fifty is Eitzah- counsel. Rabbenu Ovadiah from Bartenura writes[5] that this is learnt from the Leviim.  We learn this idea, from that then when they retire at the age of fifty, they are to advise the younger Leviim. What does he mean?

What is Eitzah? Etymologically, it is tied to the word Eitz, a tree. In the Zohar, the Mitzvoth are called , Eitzos. As explained by Rav Tzadok[6], they are the ways by which to acquire the knowledge of the Torah. If we examine the concept of Eitz, there are three kinds of trees. There are those which HaShem commands, that we are to eat from all the trees of Gan Eden. Then there is the Eitz HaDaas which we are commanded to not eat from. And then there is the Eitz HaChaim.

I would like to posit the following idea. The Eitz HaDaas is the tree of knowledge of good and evil. As we learn, HaShem taught Moshe forty-nine sides of Mutar and Assur for each question[7]. Those are in the Eitz HaDaas, which are all the permutations. As the Ramban brings in the Hakdamah to his commentary on Chumash[8], there are fifty levels of Binah in the world. They were all aside from one given to Moshe. That means complete knowledge is fifty. Binah in this world reaches till only below fifty, till forty-nine. That is at forty a person begins to acquire Binah. That takes till forty-nine. 

At forty-nine, one has reached the maximum of Binah, and there is a need for a different level. The Eitz HaChaim is fifty. But since we cannot get the fiftieth level of Binah in this world, we need a different approach. That is Eitzah; the tree of life, the Eitz HaChaim. But what do you get?

The Likutei Yehudah brings a parable. There was once someone lost in a forest. There seemed to be many paths that lead out, but they were all dead ends, or worse lead deeper into the forest. As he wandered he espied an older man walking through the trees. He ran over and joyfully exclaimed, You must know the way out! The older man sadly shook his head, and responded. I am also lost. But I can help you in the following way. I can show you the paths I have tried, and that are false and lead in the wrong direction. That will help you find the proper path.

If Binah cannot teach us the proper path, since in this world it does not reach to fifty, then we need to use a different system. That is the system of the Torah, which even if we cannot get to the fiftieth level of Binah, we can use Eitzah.

The age of fifty which is Eitzah, is the age of closing the gates. A person of Eitzah cannot tell you what the path is. But he can say what he has tried and does not work. There are many paths out of the forest. Each person has their own. But there are also many paths that seem to lead out, and actually only lead deeper into the forest. The person of Eitzah can close the gates that seem to lead out, but actually only confuse, and help someone pick up their load. That is the closest we can come to the fiftieth level. That is the idea of the Levi at the age fifty of Eitzah, closing the gates. But what about the singing? That seems to be the main Avodah of the Leviim?

The Shem Mishmuel brings[9] from an early Sefer[10] the following fascinating idea. The main part of bringing a Korban Chatas was the Teshuva done by the owner of the Korban. If as the Cohen brought the Korban he felt that the person was not doing Teshuva, he signaled the Levi to raise the octave of his song, to bring the person to Teshuva. (Obviously, being a Cohen in the Bais HaMikdosh gave them this insight.) The power of song, can open gates to a persons heart, and help him find the correct path.

In the various Sefarim[11], there is a correlation between the aspect of the Leviim representing Midas HaDin, and the idea of song being from Midas HaDin. The Leviim descend from Levi, who when faced with the brazen act of Shechem against his sister, takes his sword and destroys Shechem. Later, when Klal Yisroel worship the Eigel the Leviim again punish the sinners.

Song is also Din. Din is the ability to contain and constrain a force in the proper boundaries. Song requires boundaries. Symphony without boundary is cacophony. The Leviim can sing. But if the boundary is emphasized too much, it cannot soar. The Cohanim are the Midah of Chesed of expansion. Aharon lifts the Leviim up as he does the Tenufah, and takes their Din, and opens it to greater heights. This expansion of the Din, is the symphony between the Cohen and the Levi, to bring that sinner to Teshuva. This is the power of the Levi to open up the possible gates, but within the correct boundaries, to correct our Aveiros.

These were the Halachos taught as we began to travel to Eretz Yisroel. But the sins of Sefer BaMidbar became too great, and we are still on that journey, trying to find our way out of the forest.

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