I recently attended a wedding in which the chosson had just finished serving five years in the Marine Corps. There were multiple young men dressed in full Marine uniform, not a sight that one sees at most weddings. I was curious to know what type of salary a marine receives. Surprisingly, I discovered it’s very modest, except for high-ranking officers. However, free housing and food are provided by the government for those serving their country.
This reminded me of an idea I heard from my rosh yeshiva, HaGaon Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l. When I was learning in Mir Yerushalayim, I attended the Friday morning Chumash shiur given by Rav Finkel. It was very popular—even bochurim from other yeshivos would come. At the end of one shiur, he picked up a large volume of Rambam, (not easy with his severe Parkinson’s) and turned to the end of the volume to read the last few closing lines: “Why did the tribe of Levi not receive any inheritance of land in Eretz Yisrael, nor have rights to any of the spoils of war? Because Shevet Levi was designated to serve Hashem and to teach Torah. They received stipends, since they are the army of Hashem. This is not limited to Shevet Levi! Anyone from anywhere in the world who devotes himself solely to serve Hashem becomes the ‘holy of holies.’ Hashem will grant him what he needs to live like the Kohanim and Leviim, as Hashem is his portion.”
Anyone can join the Marines, but it requires tremendous determination and commitment to be successful. Similarly, anyone can dedicate himself to serve the Jewish nation, like Shevet Levi, but it also takes tremendous dedication and commitment to be successful.
This lesson is implicit in Parshas Beha’alosecha, which describes the designation and consecration of Shevet Levi. The words “Bnei Yisrael” are repeated five times in the same pasuk! Rashi explains that Hashem is conveying the message here that Bnei Yisrael are beloved to Him like the Five Books of the Torah. Why does Hashem give this message precisely in the pasuk that discusses the designation of Shevet Levi?
The Sfas Emes quotes his grandfather, the Chiddushei HaRim, who explains that Hashem was concerned that because Shevet Levi was singled out, the rest of Bnei Yisrael may feel inferior. Therefore, Hashem tells the whole nation how beloved they are to Him. Levi was not chosen to be separate from the nation; rather, they were chosen to serve the nation. We see this demonstrated earlier in the parsha, when Bnei Yisrael placed their hands on the heads of the Levi’im, granting them their power.
Based on this comment of the Sfas Emes, we have a new perspective on the Rambam’s statement that anyone can choose to be like Shevet Levi. A life devoted to serving the public unites the entire Jewish nation. As a result, Hashem provides such people with their basic needs, similar to the compensation of a soldier serving the people.
The relationship between Shevet Levi and all those who devote themselves to the public is illustrated at the very beginning of Parshas Beha’alosecha, which details the procedure of lighting the Menorah. The Menorah had seven cups of oil, which Rashi explains were positioned with three lights on each side, facing the center light. The pasuk states, “To the center of the Menorah shall illuminate all seven lights.” How is it possible for seven candles to shine towards the center, as there are only three candles on each side and the center candle itself is the seventh candle? One explanation is that the six lights represent the six days of the week and the center light represents Shabbos. When the six days of the week center on Shabbos, they then join as one unit and all seven lights shine as one. There are other explanations, but they all focus on the concept that many individuals working together...become one. This symbolizes the general public and those who provide them with services, both spiritual and physical. They are one unit focused on one mission: the betterment of Klal Yisrael. Together, the general public and those that help better them, fuse into a powerful force that helps ensure a bright future for the Jewish People.
As this school year comes to an end, let us take note of the rebbeim, teachers and faculty who dedicate themselves to teaching our children. They are our Marine Corps! And like the Marines, their salaries are modest, but their commitment to Klal Yisrael is great. Let us express to them how we appreciate their devotion to our children and to Klal Yisrael. In addition, each one of us should think of a way to improve our own dedication and commitment to Avodas Hashem in ways that benefit others. In that way, we also become soldiers in Hashem’s army and merit the special benefits that come along with it—especially Hashem’s appreciation!
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate Rosh Yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]