by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – May 22, 2012
In the Torah section of Bamidbar (3:6-8), G-d tells Moses, “Bring near the tribe of Levi and have it stand before Aaron the Priest, and they shall serve him. They shall safeguard his charge and the charge of the entire assembly before the Tent of Meeting, to perform the service of the Tabernacle. They shall safeguard all the utensils of the Tent of Meeting and the charge of the Children of Israel, to perform the service of the Tabernacle.”
As regards the Levites’ aforementioned special position, we are told in Bamidbar Rabbah 3 that this is an example of the verse in Tehillim (92:13): “The righteous shall flourish like a date palm, like a cedar in Lebanon, he will grow tall.”
In his will, cited in Maayana shel Torah, R. Yisrael ben Eliezer Baal Shem Tov (1698 – 1760), the founder of Hasidism, elaborates on the above.
There are two types of righteous individuals, the Baal Shem Tov notes. One is constantly engrossed in service to G-d but has no involvement with others. He keeps his righteousness to himself. Such an individual can be compared to a cedar – large and strong but does not bear fruit. Like a cedar, this individual may be great in knowledge of the Torah and in service to G-d but does not do anything to produce other righteous individuals. On the other hand, there is another type of righteous individual who can be compared to a date palm. A date palm is also large and strong but in addition it flourishes – it bears fruit. Similarly, such a righteous individual steps out of his immediate four amot and spreads the beauty within him to others around him, whereby his righteousness bears fruit, bringing others closer to G-d. Whereas the cedar will just “grow tall”, developing itself, the date palm “shall flourish”, bearing fruit and spreading good to the world.
By choosing to reach out to others, the midrash implies, as amplified by the Baal Shem Tov, the tribe of Levi were privileged to be brought even closer to G-d in special service to Him.