Saturday, February 25, 2012

#133 - Tribe of Levi: The 3 Levite Families (Part 1)

My dear friends, these five posts - #133 through #137 - will be a five part series pertaining to the Levitical tribe of which I belong as a Levi/Levite. I hope to keep each post relatively short, because what one post won't explain in its entirety will be explained in one or more of these other posts, as they will be related, but just differing with the focus of the particular post.

We see that in Exodus Chapter Six (in Parshat Va'era), seemingly out of nowhere, following Hashem telling Moses and Aaron to command Pharaoh to let the Jews out of Egypt, that the families of the first three tribes of Israel - Reuben, Shimeon & Levi - are mentioned. The bottom line reason for this was to trace the ancestry of Moses and Aaron, but this begins with Reuben being that in Jacob's blessings to his children on his deathbed, he had castigated these first three sins for their shortcomings. Hence, to make it up to them, as they were righteous people after all, the Torah allowed a special section to mention them alone. Now, although Levi was one of these three children, the end result is that his great grandchildren were the greatest Tzadikim/righteous people of all time - Moses & Aaron. But meanwhile, leading up to these two, the Torah mentions the ages of three generations before them - Levi, Kehath & Amram - with their respective ages at their passing as 137, 133, and 137. Why Hashem wanted it this way, I don't know. But what we do see is that Levi lived the longest of the tribes (aside from Joseph whose age of 110 is also mentioned in the Torah, we have a Midrashic tradition of the ages of the other tribes). But more on Levi and Amram of their age of passing in 137 in a future post. Today, in my 133rd Post, I will focus on the sandwiched Kehath whose age of passing was 133.

Kehath was one of the three sons of Levi, the other two being Gershon and Merari. Now, I should note that although almost all Jews who are Cohanim and Levi'im today know their tribal status, unlike most other Jews in the civilized, mainstream Jewish community (there are segments of peoples in particular places in this world who claim to be of some of the other tribes, no doubt being part of the Lost Ten Tribes, but this post is not the time to discuss this), I don't think that there are two many Levites today (not including the Cohanim who know for a fact that their parental line is from Kehath since they know they are from Aaron) who know which of these three Levite families they are descendants from. While among the Taryag Mitzvot/613 Commandments, this makes no practical difference, even in the times of the Temple, since there are specific commandments for all Levites across the board, Cohanim, and Cohen Gadol/High Priest, we do see that there were practical differences of those descended of one of these three Levite families in the times of the Mishkan/Tabernacle who performed one or another type of holy work.

While the other two Levitical families of Gershon & Merari were involved in the more physical type of labor related to the Mishkan, the Kehathites were considered more special in that they were the ones designated to carry the Holy Ark, which represents the Torah, as it contained both the Sefer Torah and the Ten Commandments tablets.

Now note, the truth is that this particular service was really meant for the Cohanim. In fact we see that nearly 40 years later, when the Jews came to Israel under the leadership of Joshua, it was the Cohanim who carried the Holy Ark. But since at the dedication of the Mishkan, the only Cohanim available were Aaron and his two sons Elazar & Ithamar (while his first two sons Nadab & Abihu perished on that very day), and they were busy enough as it is with the Priestly service in the Mishkan, it was this particular Levite family who held this responsibility. In fact, in the Maftir of Parshat Bamidbar, Hashem warns Moses and Aaron to see to it that the Kehathites don't screw up and not perform the service the right way so they wouldn't die, since the Holy Ark was the holiest object that existed in this universe.

OK, so Kehath son of Levi apparently must have been a greater Tzadik/righteous person than his two brothers to have merited to have the two greatest righteous men to be his grandchildren. In any case, since I mentioned that until the Cohanim became more numerous, the Kehathites performed certain duties that were in essence Priestly duties that later were only permitted for Cohanim exclusively, there must be some special connection with the whole Kehathite family as related to Aaron.

Actually, we are not far off. One need only look to Psalm 133, the number of the psalm that is the same age of Kehath at his passing, to see this connection in one of the shortest psalms in Tehilim consisting of three verses - "like the good oil on the head, going down on the beard, the beard of Aaron..." What does this supposed to mean? Well, we know that Aaron, as mentioned in the Parsha of this very week - Parshat Tetzaveh, was anointed with the anointing oil, which was applied on his head. So, who cares if some of it dripped on his beard? It doesn't mention anything in the Parsha of this oil as pertaining to his beard.

There is a very interesting Midrash on this. When Moses annointed Aaron with this oil, some of it wound up dripping on his beard. Aaron became frightened from this, because as we know, if one benefits from holy Temple objects without the permission of the Torah, one has committed the sin of Me'ila, desecration of such objects, and one is obligated to bring a guilt offering as well as paying not just the principal amount that one benefited from, but an extra fifth of it. Hence, Aaron worried that he committed a sin from benefiting from the oil that some of it dripped on his beard, even though he physically didn't even apply the oil himself. However, he felt that nevertheless, he still could have been responsible, since after all, he accidentally helped the Golden Calf be created, which caused the Jews to be punished for idolatry. Hence, Aaron felt that maybe this happened to him now, because really, he wasn't so worthy due to a past sin, even though that was unintentional.

To this, Moses assured him that he need not worry. If anything, this was a sign of blessing being that extra oil was dripping showing Hashem's abundance "for there, Hashem commanded the blessing".

And speaking of abundance, I want to show a unique Gematria as related to Kehath's name - in Hebrew as Kehat, the letters being Koof, Hei, Tav/Sav. Now, rearranging these letters, making Hei the first letter to spell a number as Hei-Tav-Koof, this spells the Hebrew number 5,500; being that Hei becomes a unit of thousand as 5,000 rather than its usual or plain Gematira as five when place in the beginning of a number (Hei:5,000, Tav:400+Koof:100=500). Yes, I am referring specifically to the Hebrew year 5,500, which was 272 years ago. Any connection here?

There is a most interesting piece of Zohar on Parshat Noach that notes that in the sixth century of the sixth millenium of the world's existance, there will be a flood of wisdom, paralleling Noah's age of 600 at the Flood of Noah. Indeed, we see that basically between the years 5,500-5,600, both major spiritual developments - the Hasidic & Yeshiva world as we know it today, as well as major materialistic developments - inventions that changed the world, took place.

Kehath, as the holiest of the three Levite families, was a spiritual depository of what was needed for the Mishkan, which paralled Hashem's creation of the world. Additionally, this family, highlighted by Aaron as the first Cohen Gadol, represented the ultimate spiritual service to Hashem, which is called Avodat Hashem. And the concept of Avodah in the materialistic sense is applicable particularly to the first six days of the week, in which we prepare for Shabbat. Similarly, the 6,000 years of the world's existance is a preparation for the ultimate Shabbat that the righteous will enjoy forever.

Hence, when dividing the 6,000 years into 12 parts, the time period of Years 5,500-5,600 represent the first part of the 12th and final 500 year period of the world's existance (we see in Kabbala that 500 years is used as the measurement of time between one spiritual world and the next). Accordingly, this period of time corresponds to the beginning of the daytime of the sixth day of the week, about which we see that the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim Siman 250) tells us to arise early on Friday morning to make the preparations for Shabbat. Coincidence?

Another connection as related to the 12th and final period of the world's existance is that the Beit HaMikdash/Temple, successor of the Mishkan, was located mostly on the territory of the Tribe of Benjamin, the 12th and last of Jacob's sons. Hence, it was only fitting that the corresponding period of time should start off with major developments of the fountain of wisdom which ultimately comes from Hashem.

And speaking of the Temple, today - 3 Adar - marks the dedication of the Second Temple - Bayit Sheni.

That's it for Post 133. My next post, G-d willing, will be dealing with the various watches of the Tribe of Levi in the Temple, so stay tuned...

Third of Adar, 5772

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