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B'Midbar/Numbers 8:16 For they [are] given, given to Me from the midst of the Children of Israel
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The Torah is generally known for its terseness and word economy, so when a text repeats a word, all the commentators assume that this must be for a significant reason. It is possible that the repetition of the word at the start of this verse is an instance of dittography - the scribal error of repeating a word, or block of words, from the exemplar or source document during copying - but the early translations and the Dead Sea Scrolls all suggest that it is original. TheSeptuagint paraphrases slightly but has , "a gift they are given" both from the root , "to give away or give up". Targum Onkelos has from the root , meaning "to separate or withdraw". Onkelos' particular word choice here is governed by his usual desire to eliminate anthropomorphism; while he retains 'given' in 3:9 and 8:19 because there the Levites are being given to Aharon, here he borrows 'separated' from 8:14 to avoid the idea of giving the Levites to HaShem. Targum Neophyti goes a step further and also changes "to Me" to "to My name" both here and verse 14.
TheSforno takes - a masculine plural Qal passive participle from the root , "to give, assign, appoint", so here "those being given" or "the given ones" - as an indication that the Levites are given twice to G-d. "They are given for themselves, for they gave themselves over to My service as it says, 'Moshe stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, "Whoever is for ADONAI, come to me!" All the descendants of Levi rallied around him' (Shemot 32:26, CJB); and they are also given by the Children of Israel who will give the Levites their sustenance through the first tithe in exchange for their service so that My service be done by all of them." By standing for the L-rd and answering Moshe's call, they gave themselves; they are given by the people because of the tithes to support them.
Far from this being a negative thing - almost as if the other tribes hated the Levites because they had killed 3,000 men of the people at the incident of the Golden Calf (Shemot 32:25-29) - the early rabbis saw this as a positive calling by G-d, a selection and choice of the Levites to serve and worship Him. The Midrash explains: "See what love the Holy One, blessed be He, lavished upon the Levites! The Holy One, blessed be He, spoke thus to Moses: 'Greatly are the Levites beloved by Me. Take them in My name for high office!' How do we know this? From what we read in the context: 'Take the Levites' (18:6)" (B'Midbar Rabbah 15.11)
WhileRashi suggests that the repetition echoes the twin job functions of the Levites described in the last parasha (see Naso, 5772): "given for carrying and given for song", Jacob Milgrom explains that the Levites are actually given twice: once, here, by the people to the L-rd, and then again three verses later - "And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the people of Israel, to do the service for the people of Israel at the tent of meeting and to make atonement for the people of Israel" (B'Midbar 8:19, ESV) - by the L-rd to the priests. Although the people assign the Levites to the L-rd, He has no direct use for them and so re-assigns them to Aharon and his descendants to serve in the worship and work of the Tabernacle. Milgrom points out that the idea of someone being dedicated or assigned exclusively to the L-rd occurs in a number of other places in the Hebrew Bible: Hannah's vow concerning her son Samuel, "O L-RD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your servant and remember me and not forget Your servant, but will give to Your servant a son, then I will give him to the L-RD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head" (1 Samuel 1:11, ESV); Joshua in the matter of the Gibeonites, "That day Joshua made them hewers of wood and drawers of water - as they still are - for the community and for the altar of the L-RD, in the place that He would choose" (Joshua 9:27, JPS); and Ezra's description of the returnees from Babylon, "the temple servants whom David and the officers had appointed for the service of the Levites - 220 temple servants, all of them listed by name" (Ezra 8:20, JPS).
The Scriptures make it clear that each and every life belongs to G-d, for He created and breathed life not only into the first man, Adam, but into each of us in every generation. As the Psalmist says, "For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother's womb" (Psalm 139:13, ESV) and the L-rd spoke to Jeremiah: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5, ESV). G-d it is who numbers our days and knows every move that we make and every thought that we think. Yet because of our sin we became estranged from Him; because of our choices and actions, we have become objects of His wrath - still His by right of ownership but at enmity with Him and fit only for destruction at His word. We gave ourselves over, although we actually had nothing to give, into the power of the enemy of our souls and were liable to the law of sin and death.
Yet, from that position - "dead in your trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1, NASB) - G-d rescued us in His Son, Yeshua the Messiah. As Rav Sha'ul wrote to the community in Rome, "G-d demonstrates his own love for us in that the Messiah died on our behalf while we were still sinners" (Romans 5:8, CJB). By dying on the cross, Yeshua paid the penalty for our sin - He paid the ransom price to redeem us from the consequences of our sin and make reconciliation with G-d possible. Even though we were already His, He bought us back, so we are now His twice over: "given, given to Him". Peter wrote, "you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot" (1 Peter 1:18-19, ESV).
Although it was incumbent upon us from the beginning, since we were already His then, with our redemption comes responsibilities. Even more than before, we are not our own masters, as Rav Sha'ul explains: "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, ESV). He continues that thought in the next chapter to say, "You were bought at a price, so do not become slaves of other human being" (7:23, CJB) - that is, we are not to become enslaved again, subject to the whim or control of others. "What the Messiah has freed us for is freedom! Therefore, stand firm, and don't let yourselves be tied up again to a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1, CJB). There is a purpose for this; not to spoil all our fun or make us look as if we sucked lemons for pleasure, but that we might reach the real meaning on what it means to be made in G-d's image, conformed not to this world but to the image of Messiah: "He it is who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for Himself a people of His own who are zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:14, NRSV).
In exactly the same way that the Levites were "given, given" to G-d, so He has "given" us life and then bought us back when we had thrown that life away and "given" us a new life in Messiah Yeshua, in order that we might live that life to the full and glorify Him in it. Sha'ul expresses that perfectly when he says, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of G-d, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20, ESV). Live the life you were designed and built for by surrendering it fully to G-d so that He can give you His life in Yeshua!
Further Study: Ezekiel 37:23; Galatians 5:24
Are you "given, given" to G-d or only paying lip-service to the idea? You
won't connect with the fullness G-d has for you until you let go and give
Him everything. Give Him all of your life today!
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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© Jonathan Allen, 2012
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.