Tisha b’Av-Kinah 10-Levi
Transcribed by Michael Beller: The one tribe that wasn’t tricked into servitude by the Egyptians was Levi. So why then if Pharaoh had so much power did he not force the tribe of Levi into servitude?
Because there was no better way to torture the Jews than to show them that if they had been smarter like the tribe of Levi they would not have been tricked into being slaves. The tribe of Levi is continuous embarrassment to the rest of the Jews, it is because of this that Moshe was not able to bring his wife and children to Israel because they were part of the tribe of Levi, which would just be more of a reminder that they were stupid enough to be tricked into servitude and not the tribe of Levi.
At the golden calf Levi was the only tribe that didn’t worship the calf and even more so, they were willing to kill those who did. This all just furthers the sense of embarrassment that the other tribes feel. So our relationship with Levi is very complicated.
The first person to acknowledge that the Jews relationship with the tribe of Levi may not be the healthiest relationship was Eisav. When Yaakov wants to buy the bichora Eisav says, “I’m going to die why do I need the bichora?”
Rashi gives two explanations, the first is since eventually the bichora is not going to be the determinant of who does the service, which is going to be the tribe of Levi, then why do I need to give up my life.
The second explanation is, if you are the tribe of Levi and you make a mistake with the service you’re put to death, so in order to have this privilege I have to pay such a heavy price, I’m going to make a mistake at some point and then I’m going to die so I don’t want to live with this level of responsibility. This doesn’t make sense because it is not he who is going to die but his descendants so why does he give up the bichora?
Eisav understands that he doesn’t want to start something where the first born is the one who serves god and eventually it has nothing to do with being the first born because someone else is going to take the right, so that means whatever I’m starting is not real. For Eisav Levi represents the failure of the first born to do their job properly, it represents failed service, and Eisav could not bear that. So Eisav looked at Levi and saw failure.
If you go through the portions in the Torah, especially Behaalosicha, you’ll see that there is a complex process in which the service is shifted from the first born over to the tribe of Levi, and it is almost as if the transaction is not effected by Aaron it is effected by the Jewish people, and it is effected by the first born of the Jewish people giving up the service. But when they give up the service to the tribe of Levi they have to do it in such a way that they don’t do it like Eisav did it which is, “I’m not good enough”. They had to learn how to hand over the service to someone else in a way that would not only elevate the tribe of Levi but elevate them. They did this by having Aaron lift up each person from the tribe of Levi and waving them, which was a way of saying this is the people that represent us and we are giving them to you as a gift. By doing it in this way they are empowering themselves. This is the way the Jewish people should view the tribe of Levi, not as some amazing people that god sent to us and we must look up to, but as people who exhibit qualities we admire and because of that they are our gift to Hashem. The tribe of Levi is not a gift granted by Hashem but instead it is the Jewish peoples’ gift to Hashem.