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In Moses' dealing with the aftermath of the communal sin of the golden calf:
Moses stood at the entrance of the camp and called out: 'Whoever is for G-d, join me! All the sons (descendants) of Levi together came to him. He said to them: 'So says G-d… let every man put on his sword …and kill (even) his brother, even his friend, and even his relation. The Levites did as Moses said. Three thousand men died that day. And (then) Moses said: 'Consecrate yourself today to G-d, for each of you has opposed his son and his brother, so that He may put a blessing on you today.' (32:26-29)
That was not the first time that the name of Levi was coupled with single-minded zeal to put great wrongs right with the sword. The precedent was Levi himself, with his brother Simeon, in the earlier story of Shechem's rape of Dinah which had the implied support of the local people:
'It was on the third day… Simeon and Levi took up the sword and killed every male… They took Dinah from Shechem's house and they left' (Gen. 34:25-26)
But their zeal deeply disturbed their father Jacob, who rebuked them just before his death with:
'Cursed is their anger for it is strong, and their wrath for it is harsh. I will divide them within Jacob (their future descendants), and I will scatter them throughout Israel (Gen. 49:7).
Zeal is a quality that is appropriate at the right place at the right time. But even when the circumstances are right, zeal has two essential qualities.
Firstly, the person who carries out the act of zeal must be above all criticism himself. Thus the Levites - the only people not involved in the sin of the golden calf, were able to answer Moses' call to punish those involved: 'even his brother, even his friend, and even his relation'. That behavior followed the zeal that Levi himself showed in his dealings with the people of Shechem.
Secondly, zeal is a quality that by definition has its downside. Like black pepper, it is not eaten by the spoonful, but scattered on the food. That explains why the Levites - those with zeal - lived according to Jacob's final words: 'I will divide them within Jacob and I will scatter them throughout Israel'. As Aaron put it: 'You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any part among them; I (G-d) am your part and your inheritance among the people of Israel (Num. 18:20). That included being spread evenly throughout the land allocated to other tribes, rather than being able to form a geographically zealous block. Their single minded devotion to duty of higher calling which went back to Levi himself was to found their spiritual service to the Israelites - but not in such a concentration that their potential zeal would turn people away from The Source…
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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