I am a Levite. A descendant of the tribe of Levi, the third son of Jacob and Leah, as described in the Book of Breishit (Genesis). As a boy, I was aware of this fact and that our family had some kind of special status as Jews because of it, but we didn’t make much of it or even discuss it. It was just something that my father informed me of, just as he was informed of it by my grandfather when he was a boy. It didn’t seem to amount to much, other than the fact that one or the other of us was occasionally called for the second Aliyah to the Torah, reserved for a Levi, on Shabbat or on a holiday at the synagogue.
My whole perspective on this evolved over the years as I learned more about the importance of the Levi’im in Jewish history- the special honor they were accorded because of their fierce loyalty to Hashem and our people. The biblical Levi’im were singled out for their loyalty in the desert when the other Children of Israel sinned by worshiping the golden calf.
As stated in the Book of Shemot (Exodus 32:26):
Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said: “Whoever is for the Lord, [let him come] to me!” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him.
וַיַּֽעֲמֹ֤ד משֶׁה֙ בְּשַׁ֣עַר הַמַּֽחֲנֶ֔ה וַיֹּ֕אמֶר מִ֥י לַֽיהֹוָ֖ה אֵלָ֑י וַיֵּאָֽסְפ֥וּ אֵלָ֖יו כָּל־בְּנֵ֥י לֵוִֽי:
Later, in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy 33:9), when Moshe blessed the tribes of Israel, he said of the tribe of Levi:
…..for they observed Your word and kept Your covenant
כִּ֤י שָֽׁמְרוּ֙ אִמְרָתֶ֔ךָ וּבְרִֽיתְךָ֖ יִנְצֹֽרוּ
They shall teach Your ordinances to Jacob, and Your Torah to Israel….
יוֹר֤וּ מִשְׁפָּטֶ֨יךָ֙ לְיַֽעֲקֹ֔ב וְתוֹרָֽתְךָ֖ לְיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל
The Leviim were thus rewarded by being given the privilege of carrying the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert and later by serving as teachers in addition to having special responsibilities in the future Beit Hamikdash (Temple) in Jerusalem as singers, musicians and guardians at the gates.
I view it as a great honor to be a Levi. I love talking about it with our family. It is important to remember who we are and from where we come. The notion that we are an important part of the chain of Jewish history, that we are among the few among our people who can actually identify the tribe that we are descended from, that our ancestors served in the Beit Hamikdash – to me, all of this places a responsibility on me to help keep the more than 3000 year chain of history intact and never to be broken.
But how does one interconnect this unique aspect of one’s ancient Jewish heritage into life in Israel in the 21st Century?
We made Aliyah to Israel in 2009. I’ve spent the past couple of years devoting Torah learning time with my chavruta (study partner-also a Levi) focused on everything related to the Levi’im anywhere in the Tanach (the Jewish Scriptures). It’s been a motivating and uplifting journey, but even before taking on this course of study to deepen my knowledge and appreciation of my status as a Levi, I had concluded that I needed to do something much more proactive.
As a teenager during the period of the Six Day War, I remember well the miraculous events and startling outcomes that captivated the Jewish World, but most especially, I remember the liberation and reunification of our capital city Jerusalem. And for me, the most miraculous of all were the words of General Motta Gur on the third day of the war, when he broadcast “Har Habayit b’yadeinu” (the Temple Mount is in our hands!). Some 1900 years after the destruction of the Temple, Hashem granted us the privilege of returning to our holiest site and freeing it from its bondage.
Fast-forward another half century to today and who could believe that Israel is under political assault by most of the nations of the world who have come to criticize not only our right to declare Jerusalem our capital, but have even passed resolutions denying any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, our most sacred place?
So now it has become abundantly clear to me that as a Levite, the most important thing I can do is demonstrate a commitment to the place where much of our work took place – on Har Habayit. Thinking of the Levi’im of old who came to the Temple Mount, where they stood as guardians of the gates, I feel that the least that I can do is make regular visits to Har Habayit, along with the growing numbers of other committed Jewish brethren. This is meant not only as a statement of our love for this place, but with the understanding that there is an ongoing need to reaffirm our sovereignty here in a visible way before the nations of the world.