Old City Jerusalem
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God set the Levites to be watchmen

“The Levites shall safeguard the watch of the Tabernacle of the Testimony.”

This week’s parsha במדבר gives details of the mustering of the people, by names by their fathers’ house, men over the age of 20 along with their position about the Tabernacle and the use of an emblem/flag for each tribe.

All the Israelites, aged twenty years and over, enrolled by ancestral houses, all those in Israel who were able to bear arms—all who were enrolled came to 603,550. The Levites, however, were not recorded among them by their ancestral tribe.” (Numbers 1:45-47).

The Levites were counted separately and at a different age. The Levites had the responsibility of safeguarding the Tabernacle.

Do not on any account enrol the tribe of Levi or take a census of them with the Israelites. You shall put the Levites in charge of the Tabernacle of the Pact, all its furnishings, and everything that pertains to it: they shall carry the Tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall tend it; and they shall camp around the Tabernacle. When the Tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down, and when the Tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up; any outsider who encroaches shall be put to death. The Israelites shall encamp troop by troop, each man with his division and each under his standard. The Levites, however, shall camp around the Tabernacle of the Pact, that wrath may not strike the Israelite community; the Levites shall safeguard ושמרו the watch את משמרת of the Tabernacle of the Pact.(Numbers 1:49-53).

Another exposition of the text is found in Midrash Rabbah - Numbers I:12:

"Howbeit the tribe of Levi thou shalt not number." Why were they not numbered with Israel? Because the tribe of Levi was the palace-guard. This may be illustrated by the parable of a king who had many legions and said to the Commander-in-Chief, Go and number [all] the legions except my own personal one. So the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses, "Howbeit the tribe of Levi thou shalt not number....AMONG THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL"; you may not number them among the children of Israel, but separately number them. For it is not consonant with the dignity of a king that his own legion should be numbered with the other legions. Israel, therefore, were numbered separately, and the tribe of Levi separately. But whence do you infer that it was for this reason that He commanded him thus? Because it says after this: But appoint thou the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, etc. (Num. I, 50).

The רמב"ן (Nachmanides) comments:

“Even though this is said in the Tabernacle among the flags in the desert, it is also a commandment for generations for the [Holy] Temple with the Levites keeping the charges/duties המשמרות, and by guard duty at night. They [the Levites] walked around the Tabernacle.”

The Levites were the Torah teachers

Our Sages say that the Levites were not slaves making bricks in Egypt. The Levites were Torah teachers in Egypt, in the desert, and throughout history.

God decreed that the Levites be separated and distinguished among the Israelites: “They shall perform duties for him and for the whole community before the Tent of Meeting, doing the work of the Tabernacle. They shall take charge of all the furnishings of the Tent of Meeting—a duty on behalf of the Israelites—doing the work of the Tabernacle.” (Numbers 3:7-8).

God set watchers over Jerusalem

“Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen”

God sends prophets and teachers to be body-guards around Jerusalem to remind Him of His covenant with the Jewish people.

And we read in Isaiah:

“Nevermore shall you be called Forsaken, Nor shall your land be called Desolate; But you shall be called I delight in her, And your land Espoused. For the Lord takes delight in you, And your land shall be espoused. As a youth espouses a maiden, Your sons shall espouse you [change of vocalization yields He who rebuilds you]; And as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, So will your God rejoice over you. Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen, Who shall never be silent By day or by night. O you, the Lord’s remembrancers [i.e., the watchmen just mentioned], Take no rest And give no rest to Him, Until He establish Jerusalem And make her renowned on earth.” (Isaiah 62:4-7).

Rashi comments:

“Upon your walls---our Sages interpreted---literally, angels, to remind God about the destruction [of the Temple] [for God] to rebuild it as stated “You will surely arise and take pity on Zion, for it is time to be gracious to her; the appointed time has come.” (Psalms 102:14), as stated “For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His seat.” (Ib.132:13).”

We have just celebrated יום ירושלים, Jerusalem Day, to acknowledge our joy and gratitude to God that Jerusalem returned to our control in June 1967. May we see the full redemption, speedily in our time.

The writer is Professor of Accounting, Ariel University Center of Samaria, Israel.