Parashat Behaalotcha (When you light) Numbers 8:1-12:6
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14-4:7
The Levites were special servants of G-d. One reads in this week’s Torah portion that they served in full capacity from twenty-five until fifty years of age. At the age of fifty the Levite was called to withdraw from the actual work, but he was to continue to serve in his rotation. At first glance this seems somewhat confusing. If he does not do the work, why should he continue to be part of his family’s rotation? The answer is to be a source of assistance and encouragement for the younger generation. The Hebrew text which relates to this says,
“And He shall serve his brethren in the Tent of Meeting to guard the rotation, but the work, he shall not do, thus you shall do to the Levites with their rotations,” Numbers 8:26
It is clear from this verse that the Levite who has reached fifty years of age must continue to go up with his rotation, but a different Hebrew word is used to describe what he does. For those Levites who are between twenty-five and fifty years of age, the text says they work, but those who have reached fifty years old or more, they serve. Their service is to guard the work which is being done in the Tent of Meeting. It is not that the Levites retire at age fifty, far from it, they are to use their numerous years of experience to assist the younger Levites in learning and mastering their call.
In other words, at the age of fifty they move from a performing position to that of training or a supervisory position. This emphasizes how important it is for older men to begin to prepare the next generation. While living in the Miami area I came to know a rabbi who came to South Florida as a young man. He worked all of his adult life in a small and struggling synagogue which he founded. In his mid fifties he received a large donation to transform what was a small, less than ideal building into a much larger and new complex. Finally after all these years of hard work, with so little to show for it, he now was the rabbi of this beautiful campus. The community responded and now, what was a small, shabby synagogue of one room was a vibrant, growing congregation impacting the Jewish community. No sooner was the building program finished then, what all assume would be the new assistant rabbi, was hired. However, instead of this young man serving in a supporting role, he took on the lead rabbi position. The older rabbi was not in the forefront; rather he served the younger man making him into a better rabbi.
There was no pride or thoughts of personal interests, just an overwhelming concern for the next generation. What a great example of a servant. This is what I think the relationship between Paul and Timothy must have been like.
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