Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Levi, Son of Jacob

When Levi was born, less than a year after Simeon, Leah was still struggling to win the affections of Jacob. She named her third son Levi, saying, “This time my husband will become attached to me, for I have borne him three sons" (Genesis 29:34).

Like Simeon, Levi’s youth is marked by impetuosity. When their sister Dinah was kidnaped by the prince of Shechem, the two brothers slaughtered the men of the city, ignoring the fact that Dina’s other brothers had already convinced the residents of Shechem to circumcise themselves and live in peace with Jacob’s family (Genesis 34).

Jacob scolded their reckless behavior, saying, “You have brought trouble upon me, making me odious among the land’s inhabitants . . . I am few in number and should they band together and attack me, I will be annihilated--I and my household!” Simeon and Levi, however, challenged their father, demanding: “Should he treat our sister like a harlot?!”

While the Torah notes no further incidents involving Levi, he still is rebuked, together with Simeon, when Jacob, on his death bed, offers his sons blessings that reflect their personalities and their futures:

“Simeon and Levi are brothers; instruments of cruelty are their swords. In their secret counsel let my soul not come and may my honor not be included in their congregation, for in their anger they killed a man, and deliberately crippled an ox. Cursed is their anger, for it is powerful, and their rage, for it is callous. I shall separate them within Jacob and disperse them among Israel” (Genesis 49:5 -7).

The descendants of Levi, the Kohanim and Levites, served in the Temple, acted as rabbis and teachers and owned no territory in the Land of Israel. With their ancestor's combination of zealotry and passion for God, is it any wonder that the Chanukah uprising against Hellenism was led by the Maccabees, a family of Kohanim?

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