Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Av 5766 - July 26, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
The King's Legion is Counted Separately!

by HaRav Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman

The following is a hesped for HaRav Yitzchok Zilber zt"l whose second yahrtzeit is 8 Av.

It is very difficult to eulogize one who has passed away since it is impossible to evaluate his inner being and workings. But the little that we do know is very indicative and representative of the greatness of this deceased.

The gemora in Sanhedrin 107a tells that Dovid Hamelech asked Hakodosh Boruch Hu, "Master of the World, why do we state (in our prayers)`the G-d of Avrohom, the G-d of Yitzchok and the G-d of Yaakov'? Why don't we say, `the G-d of Dovid'?" Hashem replied that the Patriarchs were put to very difficult trials whereas he, Dovid, was not tested [for his loyalty]. Upon this, Dovid declared, "Test me and try me . . . "

What are those tests which Avrohom Ovinu underwent? The mishnah in Ovos tells us of the ten trials, the pinnacle of which was, of course, the Akeidoh.

Throughout his life, a person is subject to trials. Everything he does is the result of a choice: to do or not, to submit or to overcome. The tests of the Ovos, however, were of a much more critical, decisive nature, as we see from the Akeidoh, which was surely an extraordinary trial.

Hashem tells Avrohom to take his "son, your only one, the one whom you love, Yitzchok."

Chazal say: Hashem said, "Your son."

"But," said Avrohom, "I have two sons."

"Your only one."

"But this one is exclusive to his mother and that one is exclusive to his mother."

"The one you love."

"But I love them both."

Finally, Hashem was explicit. "Yitzchok."

This son was so dear, so precious, unique and beloved. It was precisely this son which Avrohom was asked to bring up and slaughter as a sacrifice. Who can begin to describe such a difficult ordeal?

This was the type of test which our ancestors were required to pass. Yitzchok's trial at the Akeidoh was equally difficult . . .

The midrash tells us that Avrohom Ovinu was able to surmount this terrible difficulty and go, even eagerly and willingly, to carry out the command of Hashem. Yet he wept the entire way. No wonder. A father going to slaughter his beloved son. Any son would have been difficult, but this son had been the hopes and prayers of his entire century-long life. What sacrifice!

Considering all this, how, Hashem asked Dovid, could he expect people to say, `the G-d of Dovid' in the same way they said `the G-d of Avrohom?'

We can ask why Dovid requested this altogether. For what purpose? In order to boast, G-d forbid? For the sake of his honor? Did Dovid Hamelech lack honor?

The fact is that he would have merited a higher spiritual level if people were to say "the G-d of Dovid . . . " It is a level that greatly enhances a person's soul. He certainly did not need it for his personal prestige; he surely wanted to attain a higher spiritual level.

The truth is that Dovid Hamelech was found worthy of being one of the four `wheels' of the Heavenly Chariot, as it were, not that we have any concept of what that means. He did not, however, attain that higher honor of having people praise Hashem as the "G-d of Dovid."

Why not? Because Hashem said that he did not withstand trials in the same manner as did the Ovos. Dovid asked for a trial and Hashem provided it, but he did not live up to his own expectation; he failed.

This does not detract from the greatness of Dovid Hamelech at his level, as the Midrash testifies. In Olom Habo, all of the seraphs, angels and celestial beings, all the treasure vaults of hail, the clouds of glory, the stars, constellations and ministering angels — all run before him in great deference . . .

Fearsome things are brought in Ohr Zorua (Reish Hilchos Shabbos) which defy description, and all revolve around Dovid Hamelech. And yet, he did not reach that exalted level whereby Jews declare, "the G-d of Dovid . . . "


The person who departed this world also withstood trials and tests, in terms that we are able to understand. His entire life was filled with varied tribulations and hurdles which one cannot begin to describe. He, himself, wrote how keeping each and every Shabbos was a new difficulty of utter self- sacrifice. These tests were very hard for him, with no respite till the very end of his life.

This being so, we cannot begin to delineate his achievement and level. Just as Dovid Hamelech could not attain the exalted level of the Ovos, so must we understand that his greatness, in the context of our generation, was extraordinary, gevaldig! Astonishing and exemplary.


I would like to add several words here. The deceased came from a country which sought to eradicate every vestige of Yiddishkeit. Truth to say, they did, in fact, succeed in estranging the majority of Jewry from their heritage and belief in Hashem. It was most difficult to hang on to one's religion there. Those who made it here to Eretz Yisroel and wish to return to their roots, to their ancestral belief, to restore what was forcibly taken from them — the Torah — have a very difficult trial to overcome. It is not easy, and yet they wish to do so and they wish to strengthen themselves in Yiddishkeit.

In Bamidbor 1:49, Hashem tells Moshe, "But do not take a census of the tribe of Levi; do not take their head count from among the Jews." Rashi comments, "The legion of the King deserves to be counted separately. Furthermore, Hashem foresaw that there would be a decree of death over all those aged twenty and over to die in the desert. And so He said: Let these not be included in the same census because they did not sin with the eigel. Thus, all those who were counted, except Kolev, Yehoshua and several others, did not merit entering the Promised Land and they died in the desert, for they sinned.

It appears from the above that all of Israel sinned with the eigel, all six hundred thousand of them. There is, however, a midrash that says otherwise. The Torah tells us that three thousand men died because of the eigel. This refers back to the verse that states, "He shall pay five head of oxen instead of the [stolen] ox." What is the connection?

The Gaon explains that the Golden Calf is the same species as an ox. One of the animal figures engraved upon the Heavenly Chariot is the ox and those who sinned, blemished the Heavenly chariot. And so, even though only one out of a thousand actually sinned, then from the six hundred thousand, six hundred sinned. Why then did three thousand die? The midrash explains that if one must pay five times the amount of damage, then three thousand is precisely five times six hundred.

So we see that not all of Jewry sinned. Some actually sinned while others aided and abetted but did not sin directly. So why do we say that only the Leviim did not sin and should not be enumerated together with the rest of the `sinners?' And that all the Jews aged twenty and up died in the desert because of the sin of the eigel?

We see an awesome thing here. While the majority of Jewry did not sin — only six hundred did, and three thousand were punished because of those six hundred — but no group actually separated itself and distanced itself from the sinners. And so, even if they did not explicitly sin they were part of the whole. They belonged to the body of the nation. Therefore they did not merit to be counted separately and all of them died in the desert.

The tribe of Levi did, however, detach itself from the others; they distanced themselves. The Levites were set apart from the rest of the nation and they became a self- contained unit in this context. And therefore they deserve to be counted separately. And therefore did Hashem say: "But do not count the sons of Levi . . . " For if he had not done so but rather included them in the sum total, then it would be tantamount to including them with the sinners as if they had also sinned. And then, they would not have entered Eretz Yisroel but would have died in the desert.

Hashem specifically wanted them to be set apart and unique, a group unto itself. They are the King's special legion, and as such they must be counted by themselves, almost like a nation unto itself. Completely disconnected. So we see how important it was for them to have their own camp, totally apart from the rest of the tribes, and altogether unto themselves.

You have been fortunate enough to enter Eretz Yisroel and to separate yourselves from those who follow crooked paths which is, sadly, the majority of immigrants. You must form your own unified group, and fortify this group in many ways so that you and your families, your children, will merit the goodness which Hashem promises to those who do His will.

If you do this, as your great rabbi and mentor R' Yitzchok taught you, and distance yourselves, as he made sure to do, from all those who have lost every vestige of emunoh, if you exert yourselves to the utmost to toil for Torah and increase your yiras Shomayim, you will become a very special camp, a holy division. And you will thus merit for you and your family much goodness; you will merit Torah and yiras Shomayim, ruchniyus and gashmiyus.

May Hashem help you all and in this merit, may all of Klal Yisroel live to see the true Redemption, speedily and in our days, Amen.

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.