Haftorah: "They shall Instruct My People"
הרב אברהם ריבלין, המשגיח הרוחני לשעבר
This week's Haftorah, taken from Yechezkel, deals with the special laws of the priests. Yechezkel emphasizes, contrary to the common perception, that the role of the priests is not limited to the sacrificial service and the Temple. Their primary role is to serve as teaches, rabbis and judges for G-d's nation (Yechezkel 44:23-24):
They shall instruct My people concerning the difference between holy and ordinary, and they shall inform them of the difference between contaminated and pure. Concerning a disagreement, they shall stand in judgment, and shall adjudicate them according to My laws.
Similarly, we find in Malachi that the role of the priest is to teach Torah to the people: "For the lips of the priest shall safeguard knowledge, and people should seek teaching from his mouth; for he is an angel of Hashem, Master of Legions." (Malachi 2:7) The Torah itself already emphasizes that the primary task of the priests, in particular, and of the tribe of Levi, in general, is not linked at all to the sacrificial service, but rather, "They shall teach Your ordinances to Yaakov, and Your Torah to Israel." (Devarim 33:10)
Even before the Tabernacle was set up, this tribe stood out as the most spiritual and holy among all the tribes. At the time of the sin of the golden calf, when Moshe seeks the faithful ones of the nations: "Moshe stood at the gateway of the camp, and said, 'Whoever is for Hashem, join me!' -- and all the Levites gathered around him." (Shemot 32:26) The Gemara comments, "From here [we learn] that the entire tribe is righteous." (Yoma 66a) The tribe was so righteous, that in their love of Hashem, they did not hesitate to kill even, "every man his brother [Rashi: from his mother] every man his fellow and every man his near one." (Shemot 32:27) Moshe praises them for this in his blessing, "The one who said of his father and mother, 'I have not favored him'; his brothers he did not give recognition and his children he did not know; for they [the Levites] have observed Your word and Your covenant they preserved." [Rashi: "You shall not recognize the gods of others."] (Devarim 33:9)
Moshe mentions in his blessing two other issues in which the spirituality of the tribe stands out. "Whom You tested at Massah -- that they did not complain along with the other complainers " (33:8 and Rashi there); "Your covenant they preserved -- Circumcision; those who were born in the desert -- Israel did not circumcise their children, but they were circumcised and circumcised their children." (33:9 and Rashi there)
What emerges from Rashi it that the difference between the tribe of Levi and the other tribes began already in the exile in Egypt. They were circumcised -- unlike Bnei Yisrael, who did not circumcise and required the merit of the blood of circumcision and the blood of the Pascal sacrifice. Even the Egyptians recognized the tribe of Levi as a tribe of priests, and therefore, as part of the honor that they showed clergy, they did not subjugate the tribe of Levi: "The labor of the subjugation of Egypt was not on the tribe of Levi. This is evident, since Moshe and Aharon would come and go without permission." (Rashi Shemot 5:4)
Throughout all of Israel's history, the tribe of Levi served as a model and a symbol of the service of G-d. Thus, Yechezkel says, "They shall safeguard My teachings and My decrees regarding all My appointed times and they shall sanctify My Sabbaths." (44:23) Despite the fact that the entire nation is commanded to observe all the mitzvot, this holy tribe plays a special role in transmitting the religious tradition to all the people. Thus, we find also in Malachi, "The teaching of truth was in his mouth ... and he turned many away from iniquity." (2:6) The personal example of Levi's dedicated service of G-d served as something for the people to emulate. On the pasuk, "for he is an angel of Hashem, Master of Legions," (2:7), the Gemara expounds, "If the Rav is like an angel of G-d -- they will seek Torah from his mouth." (Mo'ed Katan 17a)
The priests were obviously demanded, as well, to uphold special ethical-social conduct. They learned this from their patriarch Aharon, who was one that "Loves peace, pursues peace, loves people and [thereby] draws them close to torah." (Avot 1:12) Malachi similarly emphasizes, "Injustice was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and with fairness, and [thereby] turned many away from iniquity." (2:6)
In Yechezkel's prophecy there is also a possible allusion to this aspect of the priests' work. "They shall stand in judgment" alludes to the fact that through judging, the priests prevented fighting within Bnei Yisrael. Some point out that the name "Levi" testifies to the peace that this tribe brings, since the name was given on account of, "This time my husband will accompany (yilaveh) me." (Bereishit 29:34)
It is not surprising that when Bnei Yisrael sinned with the golden calf -- and all the first born of Bnei Yisrael, who were intended for the service of the sacrifices and the Tabernacle, were disqualified from their service -- G-d did not find a tribe as good and as worthy as the tribe of Levi to fill their role. Yechezkel alludes to this in the opening pasuk of the Haftorah: "The priests, the Levites, the descendents of Zadok, who safeguarded the charge of My Sanctuary when Bnei Yisrael strayed from Me, let them draw near Me to serve Me; let them stand before Me to offer to Me fat and blood." (44:15) Yechezkel speaks of the descendents of Zadok who were chosen because they remained faithful when Bnei Yisrael strayed from G-d, but perhaps this also alludes to early times, when the Kohanim were chosen for the service of the Tabernacle because they did not worship the golden calf.
We pray for the days that the flock which strayed shall return and find their faithful Shepherd. When all the people observe G-d's charge, the service will once again become the share of all the people through the first-born of each and every family. Then the tribe of Levi will return to its original role of instructing between holy and ordinary and teaching between contaminated and pure.
For the lips of the priest shall safeguard knowledge, and people should seek teaching from his mouth; for he is an angel of Hashem, Master of Legions.
קוד השיעור: 3755