Bamidbar – High Security

The census of the Levi’im differs from that of the other shevatim, in that the latter counted only males 20 years of age or older while the former included even 30-day-old babies.

The inclusion of even infants in the Levi’im count is particularly striking, considering that the role of those counted is “mishmeres mishkan ha’eidus” – the guarding, or protection, of the sanctuary. A baby can’t protect anyone; he himself needs protection.

The most compelling explanation, offered by, among others, the Avnei Azel (Alexander Zushia Friedman, the author of the Ma’ayana Shel Torah compendium), is that the guarding here is not born of physical strength. The very existence of viable Levi’im is itself what offers protection. The security is sourced in the spiritual.

In Rabbi Friedman’s (loosely translated) words: “It is a common mistake that some make by assuming that the interests of the Jewish nation can be protected through martial and political means. Only the holiness and spiritual power of the guardians can actually offer protection… ‘If Hashem will not guard the city, for nought does the guard stand vigil’ (Tehillim 127:1)”

Rav Aharon Feldman, shlit”a, the Rosh Hayeshiva of Yeshivas Ner Yisrael in Baltimore, recently penned a heartfelt, elegiac essay about the security failures that allowed the tragedy of October 7 to happen, and how the future fate of the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael (and everywhere) is dependent on the nation’s embracing its role as Hashem’s chosen people.

Based on the warnings and lamentations of the nevi’im, Rav Feldman  imagines Hashem saying: “I… decided to wake you up with a powerful shock. I wanted you to realize that hitherto you were successful in your wars and in building up My land, not because of your cleverness or your army, but because I watched over you and granted you success. I wanted you to see that when I removed my support for you for a moment, your cleverness disappeared and your army fell to pieces.”

The essay shocked some in its straightforwardness. Stark truths are often shocking. But the Rosh Yeshiva’s rumination should not have surprised anyone. It was only the echo of Dovid Hamelech’s declaration above, and of the implication of the fact that even a baby among the Levi’im can be a conduit of Divine protection.

© 2024 Rabbi Avi Shafran

My most recent Ami Magazine column, “Hamas’ Past and Plans,” can be read here.

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