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Friday, 23 May, 2014 - 9:21 am

Yankel of Chelm was always very busy and was always tired. He always told his friends that when he retires, he will finally have time to rest. When the time of retirement came, he was very excited.

A few days later, his friend sees him walking around town yawning loudly. When asked why he is still so tired, Yankel responds: "When you are not working, you don't have opportunities to take a break!"

On April 18 2011 a vicious assault took place at a McDonald’s in Rosedale, Maryland where 22 year old Chrissy Lee Polis was attacked by two teenagers who punched her in the face with their fists, pulling her hair, dragging her across the store, kicking her until she had a seizure. The assault received national attention because one of McDonald’s employees – identified as Vernon Hackett – video taped the entire incident and posted it on his YouTube page where it was seen by millions of people. Mr. Hackett did nothing to help Ms. Polis, rather he stood there and videoed the whole attack. And in American law he did nothing wrong!

The newly read book of Bamidbar known as the book of Numbers begins with the Torah's command to take a census of the Jewish Nation. Each male over twenty to sixty years old from every tribe was to be counted to know who was capable of going to war. However, there was one exception, the tribe of Levi was counted, separately and differently. Its children were counted from a month old as opposed to twenty years old.
Why did the tribe of Levi merit such distinctive treatment? Isn’t this discriminating between one tribe and another?

The Midrash explains that G-d specially designated them. During the tragic event of the Golden Calf, when so many Jews served the idol, the tribe of Levi was stalwart in its opposition. Thus, Levi was chosen to serve in the Temple. The Midrash quotes G-d as saying, "the Levites made themselves close to me, and I will be close to them."

The Chidushei HaRim, was perturbed by this explanation. Surely, there were some other Jews who did not serve the Golden Calf. Not everyone served this idol. In fact, it was only around three thousand. Why, then, was only the entire tribe of Levi singled out to serve in the Sanctuary and subsequently in the Holy Temple? Why didn't G-d select anyone who did not serve in the Golden Calf regardless the tribe? Why choose only one tribe?

The answer is simple and timeless. The tribe of Levi did much more than passively not serve the idol. When Moses, in the aftermath of the creation and worship of the Golden Calf, cried out, “Who is for G-d? Let them gather to me!" The Torah testifies that "all the children of Levi gathered by him." The only collective group who responded were the Levites.

Many Jews may have refrained from worshipping the Golden Calf, but they remained silent. They were ready to do the right thing, but they were not ready to stand up and fight for the right thing. They were ready to silently be good, but they were not ready to take a stand and declare war against idolatry, bloodshed and adultery. Only those who stood up and protested against the heinous crimes of idolatry, adultery and murder that transpired during the Golden Calf debacle were capable of becoming spiritual leaders of the nation, the ambassadors of G-d in the Holy Temple.

This was not a punishment for the other tribes. It was a demonstration of reality. To be a leader you can’t only choose to do the right thing in the privacy of your own domain; you must be ready to stand up and cry out against injustice; you have to be ready to fight publically for truth. If not, you are incapable of leadership.

Even if most of the people are silent, you must be ready to stand up for goodness and what is right. In Western society, there is—as we have related above—a concept called an “innocent bystander.” In Jewish law, if you just stand by, you are not innocent. In American society, you’re guilty for doing “something.” In Jewish law, you’re guilty even for doing nothing!

"Lo Taamod Al Dam Reacha,” “Do not stand idle by your brothers blood,” Leviticus states. Remaining passive or neutral is not an option in Judaism. 

It has been said that there are three types of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who have absolutely no idea of what is happening. Ours is a society where very few can claim that they have no idea of what’s happening because through modern technology – from cell and camera phones to the Internet to Facebook. The triumph of evil does not occur as a result of the perpetrators of evil per se; it happens because of the many ordinary men and women who don't care enough to stand up for what is right. When people of good moral standing lose the courage or willingness to protest injustice, evil can flourish.

Every individual ought to be concerned on how to bring redemption to a hurting world.

Think about it: Till this very day, the Kohanim and Levites—all descendants of the Levite tribe—contain a unique holiness and status among our holy people, all because of a single event that transpired 3300 years ago when they chose not to remain silent to Moses’ cry “Who is for G-d?”

The saintly Chafatz Chaim, once dispatched a delegation of Jewish representatives to the Polish prime minister in an attempt to nullify a new decree against Jewish ritual.

Upon their return, they reported to the great rabbi that their mission was a failure. "The minister did not understand our Yiddish, and the translator did not do a good job conveying our message," the delegation reported.

"Yes, yes," cried the Chafatz Chaim. "But why did none of you faint? Had one of you been genuinely affected by the decree against Judaism as to faint, the prime minister would have understood you very well," he concluded. 
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky
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