The Color of Money

From the age of thirty years and upward, until the age of fifty years you shall count them, all who come to join the legion, to perform service in the Tent of Meeting.

What’s it like to be special, to be the bearer of a nation, to take care of the spiritual matters of your people that are even more critical than their physical defense? How much preparation does this involve and what’s the most important element of serving the nation?

This was the question for the Levites, who spent five years in training to serve G-d, whether in the Tabernacle or among the people. There were three wings of this tribe and they all became expert in packing and unpacking anything from the vessels to the ark that contained the tablets brought down by Moses from Mount Sinai. Their job could be summed up in one sentence.

This is the service of the Gershonite families to serve and to carry.

The Levites represented the Jewish nation but lived a life apart. They were not given a portion of the Land of Israel. Their subsistence stemmed from the tithes of the farmers and the offerings in the Temple. They were the rabbis, physicians, marriage counselors, movers and guardians of a people devoted to G-d.

In turn, the responsibility to support the Levites rested on all of Israel. Supporting the Levite was the equivalent of supporting the Torah. You couldn’t spend your money any better.

In history, the Levites and their descendants have often been abandoned by their brothers. The condition of Torah scholars was never enviable. But sometimes they lived in unimaginable misery. In pre-World War II Warsaw, deemed the “Jerusalem of Europe,” young men studied Torah up to 17 hours a day. Many of them received no more than one meal. They had no beds and were often taken in by local merchants to watch their stores at night, where they could find shelter and a spot on the floor to sleep. Their dream was that some rich man would choose them for his daughters and save them from a life of poverty.

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, known as the Chafetz Chaim, was a Levite, actually a Kohen. Born in what is today Belarus in 1838, he was an orphan who lived in hunger and want. In 1869, he opened a yeshiva in Radun, then Poland. His mission was to teach Torah and preach Jews to love G-d at a time when assimilation was rampant throughout Europe. Regarded as one of the 36 righteous people in the world, he was wooed by Jew and gentile. The peasants of Poland would invite him to their fields, convinced that his mere presence would mark a great blessing.

The Chafetz Chayim saw the Zionist movement as the biggest threat to Judaism. He called on his students and colleagues not to join the World Zionist Organization, even if that meant losing money that could have gone to rabbinical seminaries. He prayed for and loved the Land of Israel but rejected the Zionist dream of establishing a so-called normal state.

“It would be unworthy to become another Albania or even another Belgium after 19 centuries of suffering,” he said. “A state must be established on the foundations of Torah.”

In 1925, at age 87, the Chafetz Chaim made plans to leave Warsaw and settle in Petach Tikvah. The rabbis in Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine begged him not to go, saying the Torah world needed his guidance. He agreed and stayed in Radun until his death on Sept. 15, 1933 at age 95. A kibbutz, Chafetz Chaim, was named after him.

The Chafetz Chaim was distressed over the dwindling respect for Torah and its scholars. He told a story of a corrupt Russian general given command of a division. The officer didn’t care for his men and stole government funds meant for their food, clothing and weapons. He instituted a reign of terror to stop complaints.

One day, the czar arrived to attend an exercise by the general’s division. The monarch saw the state of the soldiers, their shoddy appearance and lack of training. Then, the soldiers told of their treatment by their commander. The czar ordered the general arrested but did not want the exercise to stop. He asked the soldiers whether there was anybody who could continue.

At first, nobody responded. Then, a private said he could try. The lowly soldier took thousands of men successfully through the field maneuvers.

The Chafetz Chaim then came to the point: G-d gives Jews money to perform His commandments, the most important of which is the support of Torah. Like the czar, G-d will demand an accounting

“Such will take place with the selfish rich people who try to spend their fortune on all sorts of lusts and pleasures and abandon their responsibility to support Torah,” the rabbi said.

Shavuot marks the commemoration of the Torah. G-d went to every nation and offered them this guide to life. They all refused. Finally, He went to the Jews on the morning of the sixth of Sivan and found them asleep. The Jews did not imagine that the entire world would reject the Torah without a second thought. In contrast, they came to Mount Sinai and accepted this gift unreservedly, saying “We will do and we will listen.”

The Midrash says this marks G-d’s covenant with the Jewish people. The Jews learn and observe the Torah, the greatest of missions. G-d will bless the people to ensure that they are never in want. He will do this through the Levites.

They shall bestow My Name upon the children of Israel, so that I will bless them.

About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.
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