Thursday, May 31, 2018

Waving Levites

Every society, large and small, has a hierarchy, and in the society defined by the Torah for the Children of Israel, there is a well-defined system that guides its spiritual life. The basic Jewish hierarchy consists of three groups: the kohanim (priests), who performed the lead role in the sacrificial services in the Tabernacle/Temple; the Levites, who were designated to serve and assist the kohanim in maintaining the service in the Tabernacle and, later, the Temple; and the Children of Israel, who fulfill their spiritual obligations through the sacrificial service;

God chose the Levites to take the place of the firstborn Israelites, who were originally meant to serve the kohanim but were denied that honor for joining in the sin of the Golden Calf. The Levites inauguration was marked by a specific ceremony during which the entire tribe was presented as a “wave offering,” in which each Levite was physically lifted off of the ground and “waved” north, south, east, west, up and down:

You [Moses] shall present the Levites before God, and the Children of Israel shall lay their hands upon the Levites. An Aharon shall offer the Levites before God for a wave-offering from the Children of Israel, that they may do the service of God (Numbers 8:10-11) ... And I [God] have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the children of Israel. And I have given the Levites to Aaron and to his sons from among- the Children of Israel, to do the service of the children of Israel in the tent of meeting (ibid. 18-19).

The wave offering of Levites was a one-time event. It is fascinating to contemplate the ceremony’s purpose and its effect on the nation as a whole. By the Children of Israel “laying hands” upon the Levites and participating in the wave offering, the nation performed a physical act demonstrating their acceptance of the Levites’ elevated status, and, at the same time, confirmed the God-given role of the Levites to assist the Kohanim in the spiritual service of the people.

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