by Rabbi David Ariel-Joel
Jewish survival – what is our secret?
The Torah portion this week is “Ekev” a very important portion. It deals with worshiping our God versus worshiping idols, the importance of the Land of Israel, and the differences between the Promised Land (Israel) and Egypt (in Israel, God is watching us from the beginning of the year ’til its end); and finally it speaks about reward and punishment for our actions on earth.
In this wonderful Torah portion, we find two verses that might explain one of the most surprising attributes of the history of our people. The secret of how we managed to survive more than 4,000 years, holding to our religion and people. How could such a small people impact the history of humankind and contribute to its evolution?
This could be thanks to a wonderful innovation coming from Moses and God:
“At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister and to pronounce blessings in God’s name, as they still do today; That is why the Levites have no share or inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the LORD is their inheritance, as the LORD your God told them.” (Deuteronomy 10:8-9).
One wonders, what was in that Ark of Covenant, and what was the Inheritance of the Lord?
The Levites were the carriers of the Book; they carried the ark in which the Torah was contained, together with the broken tablets and the second set of the tablets of covenant given to Moses on Mount Sinai. In essence, the Levites are the guardians of the lore, of the Jewish tradition and Law.
The role of the Levites is also described in another verse: “They teach your precepts to Jacob; they give your instructions to Israel.” (Deut. 33:10).
What is the significance of this role?
Moses dedicates an entire tribe (in fact it is Moses’ tribe, he is a descendent of Levi), to teaching to be the educators of Israel. This heritage of writing, of preserving of ancient heritage and texts, may be the secret to our survival and to our being.
Moses’ act of dedicating an entire tribe to teaching may be what has set us apart and what has kept us as a people, a whole tribe whose task is to keep the memory alive, maintain and promote our cultural heritage, and teach it nto the younger generation. This work has become sacred.
The values of the Levites have been summarized in the Dead Sea Scrolls, where it is said: “His spirit is the knowledge of truth, and justice in the Holy of Holies. The spirit of God is enlightening”.
The Levites are the preservers of our tradition, they are the teachers and educators of our people, without them where would we be?
Let us continue to preserve and learn from our texts. Let us ensure the coming 4,000 years of Jewish survival!
Shabbat candles should be lit on Fridays, July 6 at 8:40 p.m., August 2 at 8:34 p.m., August 9 at 8:26 p.m., August
16 at 8:18 p.m., and August 23 at 8:08 p.m.
Editor’s note: Rabbi David Ariel-Joel, a rabbi of The Temple – Adath Israel Brith Shalom (Reform), has volunteered to provide Torah commentaries for Community.