The uniqueness of shevet Levi is evident in the way they were counted. Initially the entire shevet was counted – “kol zechar miben chodesh va-mahlah tifkedaim – every male from one month of age and up shall you count them” (Bemidbar 3:15). The bnei Levi were counted according to their age. The family of Gershon, the oldest son, was counted first, followed by the families of Kehat and Merari.
Subsequently, shevet Levi was counted again. This time Hashem commanded Moshe Rabbeinu “miben shloshim shana vamahlah v’ad ben chamishim shana, kol ba latzava la’asot melacha b’ohel moed – from thirty years of age and up, until fifty years of age, everyone who comes to join the legion to perform work in the Tent of Meeting” (Bemidbar 4:3). Because beni Levi were counted for the purpose of avodah, ONLY those who were eligible to serve in the mikdash were counted.
This time, however, the sons of Kehat, the second son of Levi, were counted first. The Midrash Rabbah comments, “lama hikdim hakatuv l’Kehat? l’fi sheKehat haya matoanei ha’aron – because the beni Kehat were granted the privilege of carrying the Aron they were counted first. The Kli Yakar explains that in order to demonstrate that “ketter Torah hefker lakol, v’hakol zochin eilav” – that Torah is accessible to everyone, irrespective of one’s birthright, the sons of Kehat (who was not the oldest son) were granted this right.
Similarly, the Rambam (Hilchot Shemittah V’yovel 13:3) emphasizes:
V’lo shevet Levi bilvad ela kol ish v’ish. Harei zeh nitkadesh kodesh kodoshim v’y’hiyeh Hashe, chelko v’nachalaso l’olam u’l’olmei olamim – Any member of Klal Yisroel who emulates the Leviim “becomes sanctified as holy of holies and Hashem will be his portion and heritage forever
The Ramban (Shemot 25:10) notes that the commandment to construct the Aron is written in the plural – “v’assu Aron – and they shall make an Aron.” Everyone was called upon to participate in creating the Aron. The Midrash explains “yavo’u hakol v’yitasku b’aron shyizku laTorah – everyone should come and be involved in the Aron so they should merit acquiring Torah.”
Indeed, this message is so applicable and important as we enter this first Shabbat after the Chag of Zman Mattan Torateinu. May we merit to learn more Torah and the Torah should be a shomer for our entire Kehilla!
Rabbi Yehuda Moses,
Rav HaKehillah/Senior Rabbi
Congregation Mogen David