By: Rabbi Moshe Goodman, Kollel Ohr Shlomo, Hebron
Inviting the Holy Presence in Our Holy Land
Amram, Yitzhar, Hebron, and Uziel
One of the perplexing passages in this parsha is the mentioning of the lineage of Moshe and Aharon in the middle of the passages that deal with Moshe and Aharon’s mission to take Israel out of Egypt. Commentators explain that this lineage serves to show the background of Moshe and Aharon in the tribe of Levi that led to their leadership in the redemption from Egypt. Nevertheless, this explanation does not seem to explain why the tribes of Reuven and Shimon are also listed in this context. The Midrash explains that, since Reuven and Shimon did not receive a blessing from Yakov before his death, therefore they are listed in this parsha along with the honor allotted to the tribe of Levi in context of the leadership of Moshe and Aharon, in order to show that also Reuven and Shimon are important and holy tribes. However, it would seem logical that this honor, along with that of the tribe of Levi, Moshe and Aharon, should have been allotted along with the census of Israel at the Exodus itself in parshat Bo, just like such lists are mentioned throughout other censuses in the Torah.
Therefore, we would like to suggest a deeper understanding of the explanations posed above. Studying the names of Reuven, Shimon and Levi we come to the conclusion that there is an integral connection/relationship between these names. When Leah called the name of Reuven she said “Hashem has seen my affliction, for now my husband shall love me.” However, when she called the name of Shimon she said “Hashem has heard that I am hated, therefore He has given me this one.” The love-hate relationship Leah demonstrates when calling the names of Reuven and Shimon also illustrates the opposite characteristics of Reuven and Shimon. Just like Leah describes her (hopes/reflections of her) relationship with her husband, so too her children named in this way demonstrate different soul-characteristics in their relationship with Hashem, considered the “husband” of Israel, the “wife” in Shir Hashirim. These conflicting characteristics can also be seen in the episode of Yosef when Shimon called to kill Yosef while Reuven stood out to save him. We should note, however, that the attribute of hatred associated with Shimon is not necessarily a negative attribute, even though this attribute definitely needs serious caution. For example, Rebbe Nahman of Breslov (L”M I 10) describes this attribute of hatred associated with Shimon to be also associated with a rabbi or master who rebukes his community or pupil for the sake of Heaven, and by so doing our Sages say that he is hated/disliked by his community to some degree, even though this rabbi or master is a commendable figure for so doing (note, however, that the rabbi is not the one disliking). The name of Levi was called by Leah to say “now my husband shall unite with me, for I have borne him three sons.” This names signifies the unity inherent in Levi as uniting the opposites inherent in Reuven and Shimon. Based on this analysis of names we can understand how the tribe of Levi does not stand in of its own, but rather comes as a spiritual synthesis between the opposite “soul-groups” of Reuven and Shimon. Therefore, we may say that the sources that explain these lists of names in the middle of Moshe and Aharon’s mission for the Exodus, come to show that there is a complex spiritual “background” of “soul-groups” that brought about the leadership of this redemption. Of course, this “background” also gives “importance” (as we mentioned according to the Midrash) to the tribes of Reuven and Shimon as being in integral part of the “soul-grouping” that brought about the redemption, hinting also to how this “soul-grouping” is part of the future redemption.
Therefore, it follows that when studying the names of the descendants of Levi we should pay special attention to how these names reflect the unifying power of the tribe of Levi. Before we begin, we should also note that an important facet of Levi’s unification is the power of Torah so associated with the tribe of Levi – “they [Levi] shall teach Your Torah to Israel” (Dvarim 33, 10). The Torah is the central unifying Divine Light that unites all Israel, as can be seen in the encampments of the tribes around the centralized Mishkan which hold the tablets of the Torah in the ark in its core. In order not to confuse the reader with too many details, we will concentrate on the main lines of ancestry of Moshe and Aharon without discussing the descendants of each of these ancestors. The sons of Levi were Gershon, Kehat, and Merari. Gershon, like the name Gershom [mem and nun are easily interchangeable especially at the end of words in Hebrew and Aramaic], means “a temporary resident/wanderer – “ger” – in a foreign land.” In Tehilim 119 we say “I am a temporary resident/wanderer -“ger” – in the land, therefore do not hide from me Your [Torah] commandments.” Commentators explain that we request to achieve prominence in Torah due to our self-perception as temporary residents in This World in a spiritual path towards the World to Come. The name Kehot literally means “to unite in assembly” (see Rashi on Breshit 49, 10). The name Merari means bitterness, since our Sages teach (Dvarim Raba 7, 3) that Torah study is first bitter, since one is not spiritually acquainted with it initially, and only afterwards one feels the true sweetness of the Torah. Kehot’s sons are Amram, Yitzhar, Hebron, and Uziel. Amram means “a lofty nation” which signifies a lofty connection to the collective and to the united national whole. Yitzhar means to shine light, especially through an oil lamp, which signifies the Light of Torah. Hebron literally means unity – “hibur.” Uziel means “my might is God” which also refers to Torah, since our Sages teach that spiritual “might” is synonymous with Torah (Sechel Tov, Beshalach 15, 21). The fact that Hebron means unity also explains why Levi’s holiest descendants, the Kohanim, held the city of Hebron as their leading Kohanic city (Yehoshua 21, 11) (Jerusalem is an inter-tribal national city, not considered a “Kohanic” city). This is “Hebron”, the city that makes all Israel come together “in assembly” – “Kehot” – to their common Patriarchs, the city that unites – “Levi” – all the tribes of Father Yakov, the lofty nation of Israel.
Real Stories from the Holy Land #296
When the Crusaders reached the “Corner Gate” (some say that it’s the entrance to the Kasba from the east, some say from the west) in Hebron they were hit by blindness. They retracted to the “Well of Yakov” (not clear where this is today), where they were able to see again. When they returned again to the “Corner Gate” they were blinded again. Seeing this (or not seeing this…) they deserted the city. Therefore, this road was called the “Path of the Blind.”
Sefer Hebron p. 315
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