Good Erev Shabbos!
May this week’s learning and discussion be a zechus for a refuah sheleima for Maya bas Rochel, Fruma Chana bas Sarah Leah, Bracha Leah bas Shulamis, and Chaya Liana Esther bas Mazal.


In this week’s sidra, we recount the disastrous mutiny of Korach, one of the most infamous demagogues in Jewish history, and his following of rebels.  They each had their grievances and dissatisfactions.  They all secretly pursued their individual agendas, the Malbim says.  Korach twisted the words of the Torah that Moshe transferred to them, rabble-rousing and misguiding the nation to believe that Moshe warped the mandates of the Torah to suit his own ends (chas veshalom).  The rebels hungrily sought an ‘equal share’ of power among the Israelites.  Korach, a Levite, did not receive the same obligations and honors that are accorded to a Kohen, but lusted for the position that was not his– that of the Kohein Gadol.  Therefore, he and his company, without any real validity, believed they were slighted, and deemed it unfair that Moshe and Aharon specifically, were the ones who carried the very great responsibility and privilege, of national leadership and authority, spiritually and ethically, despite the obvious fact that they were hand-picked by Hashem Himself to do so.

Their demands, complaints, and rebellion angered Hashem…  and they were forever lost, swallowed alive by the earth, and drowned in their own ego.  As Pirkei Avos says “Kol machalokes… sha’aina l’sheim Shamayim ayn sofa l’hitkayeim…  She’aina l’sheim Shamayim?  Zo machalokes Korach v’chal adaso – Any dispute…  that is not for the sake of Heaven will not endure…  Which was not for the sake of Heaven?  The dispute of Korach and his entire company {Avos 5:20}.”  All that is left of Korach and his gang of 250 men, is their example of what not to do.  The story of Korach is forever imprinted into the fabric of the Torah.  Korach certainly achieved the fame he sought…  but for sure not in the way he imagined.


Today though, I would like to share a few thoughts on the laws of Terumah and Maaser, gifts and tithes, to the Kohanim and Levi’im, that are enumerated in this week’s parsha.  These principles are thoughtfully placed here, after Korach’s mutiny, to clearly show that these are the privileges and routines that pertain to those they are intended for– not for those who wish to usurp them, when it is not their heritage or responsibility.  Let’s begin.

The entire Bnei Yisroel, with the exception of the Shevet of Laivi, worked hard to provide for their families, and practically everyone farmed.  Why was Laivi excluded, and what was Laivi doing that they couldn’t work their soil?  They didn’t receive a portion of Eretz Yisroel as their own property!  We are reminded of this in perek 18, pasuk 20:

“Vayomer Hashem el-Aharon b’artzam lo tinchal v’cheilek lo yihiyeh l’cha b’tocham Ani chelk’cha v’nachalatcha b’toch Bnei Yisroel – The Lord said to Aaron, You shall not inherit in their land, and you shall have no portion among them. I am your inheritance and portion among the children of Israel.” 

Hashem sanctified Laivi as His own close servants, and they spent their days in consecrated avoda of Hashem in the Mishkan.  They represented the entire Jewish People to Hashem, said Rabbi Gordon of blessed memory, and represented Hashem to the nation.  Their entire lives were of meaningful service and guidance to the people.  They were the spiritual support of the nation.  So while serving Hashem wholeheartedly, and in their special way caring for the nation, how did they provide sustenance for their families?

Hashem decreed that all Israelite farmers set aside a portion of their agricultural produce, as a gift, and even sort of payment, to the Levites.  This is how they received their food.  This portion the Bnei Yisroel set aside was called Maaser, and it was comprised of 10% of the harvest.  Aside from this, and most preferably preceding this, the Bnei Yisroel were also responsible to present the Kohein with a Terumah, a gift, known as the Terumah Gedolah.  The Terumah Gedolah which constituted 2% of their harvest, and was the chelbo, the choicest selection, all elevated in serving Hashem, hence the name “Terumah”.  The word “rahm”, meaning ‘high’ or ‘lofty’ is hidden within the name of this offering, since even food can be elevated if used appropriately to connect to Ribbono Shel Olam, the Master of the Universe.

The Maaser of the Levites did not bear the same level of sanctity as that of the Kohiein’s Terumah, which could be consumed only by the Kohein’s immediate family, only in a state of taharah (ritual purity), and was strictly intended to share in the Avodas Hashem.  The Maaser of the Leviim, once it was given, took on the status of their personal and private resources, and wasn’t spiritually significant.  It was just their food.  (That is why, if the Laivi came and collected his portion before the Kohein, the early bird catching the worm, he would need to separate the 2% of Terumah Gedolah from what he took, and give it to the Kohein, since it really was intended for him.  Also, the Laivi cannot partake of that food, until he transfers the Terumah to the Kohein, because the holy portion is not permitted for his consumption.  All of the intricate and profound scenarios of these transactions are further enlightened by the Torah She’Baal Peh, the Oral Torah, which contains many wonderful sources to study, if you are seeking to learn more about this.)

However, before the Leviim enjoyed their food from their Israelite brethren, they had to follow up with one obligation it entailed.  The Kohanim were not partaking only from the 2% from the farmers of the Bnei Yisroel, but also from the 10% the Leviim received, they had to separate another 10%, to give to the Kohein themselves!  Hashem addresses the Leviim, in pasuk 28, charging them with this responsibility, which the Torah calls “Maaser min haMaaser – a tithe from the tithe”!

Then Hashem assures the Leviim of the significance of this mitzvah, and praises them for it:

“V’nechshav lachem terumaschem cadagan min hagoren v’chamlaya min hayakev – Your gift shall be considered for you as grain from the threshing-floor and as the produce of the vat. {Bamidbar 18:27}”

Even though the Levites were not the ones who had sown the soil and grown the produce, once their portion was presented, the ownership shifted to them.  And then they had a choice:  To give it to the Kohein, to give it to Hashem, or to keep it for himself?  Sure, there was a strict penalty if he held back his hand from giving what was meant to be given…  But he still had a choice.

Throughout our entire lives, we are faced with this sort of decision.  Everything we possess may not have been produced by our own personal efforts, but we are the masters of how we choose to employ whatever we have.  Do we hold back something, by being negligent of using it for the purpose for which everything came into being, to aid us in serving Hashem, in making the world a better place?  Or do we present with joy the greatest gift to our Superior, by using it in an elevated way?

When the Leviim gave this Terumah to the Kohen, their act was considered as if they had taken the earliest care to acquire the produce.  It was considered as their own property, their own efforts, their own gift from the beginning.

When we ‘give back’ to G-d, even in the smallest ways, investing our efforts to maintain purpose and sanctity in all that we own and do, Hashem Himself assures us that our efforts will not be ignored.  Since we actualize the purpose for which something was created, the tools and resources that were employed along the way, are considered by Hashem as  if we had originally planned and gathered them ourselves.

The beauty of the mitzvah radiates brightly, tracing back through the whole process, connecting each Jew who helped bring it to fruition.  The produce of our mitzvos, the fruits of our labors…


The Messenger Bird