The sacred and the mundane
TorahParsha Shoftim

The sacred and the mundane

Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

(File photo)
(File photo)

The Kohain and the Levi are designated to serve in the Temple. Throughout this week’s parsha, the Kohain or the Levi are also mentioned in roles other than that of a priest serving in the Temple. There are references in the following verses: 17:9, 17:12, 17:18, 18:1, 18:3, 18:6, 19:17, 20:2, 21:5. These relate to mitzvos about leadership or judging positions and some about the gifts given to the Kohanim and the Leviyim. In a number of these contexts, the Kohanim are titled “the Kohanim [who are] Leviyim” or “Kohanim, sons of Levi.” The simple explanation for this is that they are described by their tribal ancestry (Rashi 17:9). However, this begs the question: Why is it important to trace their lineage here? Furthermore, why are the Kohanim being singled out to serve in these various capacities. Why could the Torah not simply delegate any regular judge or leader?

After commanding us the first mitzvos in the parsha, to appoint judges and to judge fairly, the Torah gives a purpose to them: “In order” that you shall live and inherit the Land. The commentaries explain that the inheritance of the Land is not a one-time event. It is continuous, renewing itself all the time. Thus, these mitzvos are directed to all future generations as well. In order that we merit the continued inheritance, and so that this inheritance will endure, we must adhere to the mitzvos listed in this parsha (see 16:20, Ibn Ezra, R Hirsch).

Most of the mitzvos in this parsha are societal, governmental and political. Their purpose is to maintain the solidarity and unity of the nation, to avoid revenge, hatred and quarrels, and to resolve them. The parties come to Bais Din, which is more about fairness than about adversarial competition. They deal with subjects like recognizing boundaries, respecting others’ property, fair judges, righteous witnesses and the like. These relate to each individual’s inheritance, their shares in the inheritance of the Land as a whole by the nation as a whole.

These rules seem to be common-sense. Such legislation could surely be enacted by a body of legal scholars, without needing a mitzvah from Hashem. The parsha teaches us that they are far more than that — their strength is the observance of the Torah. This is the rule of Hashem’s Law. These are holy mitzvos, rather than mundane legal code.To sustain the inheritance of this Land, we need to recognize that it comes from Hashem, and is sacred. It is the individual’s share in the holiness of the Land.
How does one remember this? By recognizing the connection to Hashem. The Kohanim are Leviyim. Levi, by definition, is a connector; his name means “attach.” When Leah bore Levi, she named him thus, saying, “This time, my husband will be attached to me.” The tribe of Levi forms the connection between Yisroel, the heirs and Hashem, Who bequeaths the heritage. This is why the parsha, says: The Kohanim, the Leviyim shall have no share and heritage — rather, Hashem is their heritage (18:1-2).

Even the writing of the sefer Torah for the king, which is to remind the king that his role is not mundane but holy and for Hashem (17:19-20), is “from before the Kohanim, the Leviyim” (17:18). At the end of the parsha the unsolved murder is discussed. The process of bringing the calf seems to be a method to publicize the murder in the hope of finding the murderer (see Chinuch mitzvah 530).

Nonetheless, since this mitzvah is connected to the sanctity of the heritage, being the responsibility of the closest settlement, it requires kaparah, atonement (21:8). Such atonement must come through the Kohanim Leviyim, the connecters to Hashem. Indeed, right there our theme is spelled out: “The Kohanim, sons of Levi, shall draw near. For it is they whom Hashem has chosen to serve Him and to bless with the name of Hashem. Through them shall each dispute and plague [be resolved]” (21:5).

Our lives, everywhere, are sustained by Hashem. We would do well to focus on our attachment to Him in our mundane endeavors as well as in our religious rituals. For, through the lens of our connection to Hashem, is not the mundane sacred as well? pjc

Rabbi Shimon Silver is the spiritual leader of Young Israel of Greater Pittsburgh. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.

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