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B'Midbar/Numbers 3:15 You shall count all the males from one month old and upwards
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After the main census of the people thatHaShem had instructed Moshe and Aharon to take, they are now told to count the tribe of Levi who had been excluded from the larger survey of their brothers. Whereas the other tribes were counted "from twenty years old and upwards, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel" (B'Midbar 1:3, NASB), the tribe of Levi was numbered from infancy and included all males regardless of fitness. The Sages tell us that "the Levites were numbered on this occasion for the sole purpose of redeeming the firstborn" (B'Midbar Rabbah 3:8): as the Torah later says about the firstborn of the other tribes - "from a month old you shall redeem them" (B'Midbar 18:16, NASB), so the Levites are numbered from one month old. Other commentators suggest that perhaps due to the incidence of neo-natal mortality, a child was not considered viable until it was at least a month old.
Rashi borrows the description - guardians of the watching of the sanctuary - from verses 28 and 32 below, to comment that "once he leaves the category of newborn, he is counted to be called 'one who safeguards the guarding of the holy.'" Even though they do not formally enter the service of the tabernacle until the age of thirty, because of their role in the redemption of the firstborn and their potential to serve when older, they are considered as part of the body of Levites that are responsible for preserving the holiness of the sanctuary. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, seeking another reason why the Levites below the official minimum age of service were counted, points to the Talmud where it recounts that although not allowed to make up the official umber of Levites standing on the platform to sing, the younger boys and men were encouraged to join in and support the singing during the worship in the Temple (b. Arachin 13b).
Hirsch goes further than this specific role for under-30 year old Levites: "This counting of the Levites from earliest infancy ... can be taken to prove that the calling of the Levites goes far beyond the service of the Sanctuary ... a calling from which perhaps they are fit at an earlier age, but which must demand the whole of the bringing up and education of the youths from earliest childhood onwards." Hirsch points out that the Levites not only had charge of the physical material of the tabernacle: the furniture, the curtains, the vessels; they "were to be the defenders and protectors, teachers and advocates of the Torah itself and its observance." This follows Moshe's blessing of the tribe of Levi: "For they have observed Your word and kept Your covenant. They shall teach Your ordinances to Jacob, and Your law to Israel" (D'varim 33:9-10, NASB). For the Levites to teach successfully, this had to be a whole lifetime and lifestyle issue; they were the paramount living example, strategically sited throughout the Land, in the midst of the people to show by their lives and teach by their words, the way that Torah was to be lived. Every Levite child, then, was to learn Torah from the earliest moment and the behaviour and the conduct of the Levite families - fathers, mothers, children - were all a part of the larger mission to teach the Children of Israel as a whole. As G-d said: "Be careful ... that you diligently observe and do according to all that the Levitical priests shall teach you; as I have commanded them, so you shall be careful to do" (D'varim 24:8, NASB).
Rav Sha'ul emphasises this when he writes to Timothy concerning the qualifications for leadership in the body of Messiah. Only too well aware of living in a goldfish bowl, he says that an overseer "must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity" (1 Timothy 3:4, NASB), while deacons must be "husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households" (v. 12, NASB). Writing to Titus he is even more explicit about elders: "above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe" (Titus 1:6, NASB). It is a specific requirement for leaders that their children must be able to support their father, both in faith and practice, and that it is a critical proof of his calling that he has demonstrated his abilities in his own family. Of course, children must be allowed to be children and to have fun according to their age - this is essential to a balanced life and upbringing. Families in ministry are to demonstrate the proverb: "Train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6, NASB).
What then are we set apart for? Who is looking at us and counting? The simple - and perhaps shocking - answer is: everyone! In these days when there is heightened interest in spirituality, when people are seeking some meaning and purpose in life, we are under the spotlight all the time. Whether we like it or not, whether we feel ready or not, we are being observed constantly by those around us who want to know whether we are for real of just faking it like so many others in the world. Even as new believers, we are counted pretty much from day one, and the way we live our lives, raise our families, run our finances, even down to doing our gardens, are under constant scrutiny from those who are desperate to find the truth, hoping - even though they appear critical - that we may be able to help them. Whether physical Levites or called by Yeshua to be "the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13), we are both called and counted!
Further Study: 2 Chronicles 17:7-9; Matthew 5:13-16
Application: Do you count other people or yourself? Think today of how you can count for others and help them to see the Kingdom of G-d in you. Ask G-d what you do that counts and what else He wants you to do so that your "count" can increase.
© Jonathan Allen, 2008
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