Friday, 22 May, 2020 - 1:42 pm

Reb 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 – videotaped 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!

Could the monster be charged as a criminal? No. Legally, you cannot be charged for refusing to help somebody in an emergency.

What would Judaism say about this situation?

The newly read book of Bamidbar known in English as the book of Numbers begins with the Torah's command to take a census of the Jewish Nation. Each male over twenty years old from every tribe was to be counted. The Torah enumerated in detail the number of those individuals for every respected tribe, Reuven, Shimon, Judah, Naftali, etc.

However, the reader will immediately notice that there was one exception, the tribe of Levi was singled out to remain uncounted in the national census. Levi was indeed 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? Why don't we include their number with the rest of the community?

The Midrash and Rashi explain that G-d specially designated them. They were considered as the “King's special legions,” the Royal Army of G-d. During the tragic event of the Golden Calf, when so many of their fellow Jews served the idol, the tribe of Levi was stalwart in its opposition. Thus, Levi was chosen to serve in the Temple in the place of the first-born, who were originally designated to perform the service. The Midrash quotes G-d as saying, "the Levites made themselves close to me, and I will be close to them."

But 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 of the tribe? Why base it on the tribe, rather than on personal virtue? Any Jews who did not serve the Golden Calf should have been chosen for Divine service! Why choose only one tribe?

The answer is simple and timeless. The tribe of Levi did much more than passively not serve the idol. Many Jews may have refrained from worshipping the Golden Calf, but when Moses proclaimed “Who is for G-d? Let them gather to me!" 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. 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.

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 fight publicly 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 good and what is right. Bill Clinton once said that “running a country is a lot like running a cemetery; you've got a lot of people under you and nobody's listening” (in a speech at Galesburg.)

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 of doing “something.” In Jewish law, you’re guilty of doing nothing!

 “Do not stand idle by your brother's 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– it matters not whether it is on the streets of Syria or in Boston.

Every individual ought to lose a little bit of sleep because of his or her personal concern on how to bring redemption to a hurting world.

For this reason, it was only the tribe of Levi that received the privilege of representing holiness and serving in the Temple. While silence may sometimes remove the cloak of culpability from your shoulders, it will never crown you with the strength of leadership.

Think about it: Till this very day, the Kohanim and Levites—all descendants of the Levite tribe—contain 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?”

This is a lesson to each of us: Sometimes there are occasions in life where the clarion call goes out to rally around G-d's banner. If upon hearing that call, one rises to the occasion, his actions can have ramifications until the end of time.

This moving tale was related by the Rebbe in 1975:

The saintly Chofetz Chaim (1838-1933), once dispatched a delegation of Jewish representatives to the Polish prime minister in an attempt to nullify a new decree against Jewish ritual slaughtering.

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 Chafetz 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.

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, was the renowned leader, commentator, and activist on behalf of German Jewry in the mid-1800s.

In the 1830s   he was appointed as the chief rabbi of Moravia, a very illustrious and respective position to occupy.

In 1851 he was asked by a handful of Jewish Torah observant families in Frankfurt, Germany to assist them in combating strong opposition and struggle they were facing from the new and radical reform movement which had its headquarters in Germany.

Rabbi Hirsh heeded their call and left his illustrious position to take up the new post. He served as their rabbi for 37 years until his passing, strengthening, and building an amazing Jewish community and institution which flourished beyond the scope of anyone’s imagination.

When asked why he left one of the largest Rabbinic positions in Europe to join nine struggling families in Frankfurt, Germany he is reputed to have answered a response that underscores Jewish responsibly and activism towards another Jew.

To appreciate his answer, I must give you a small introduction. In this week’s portion, as the Jewish people are counted, G-d commands that every person counted ought to give a coin known as a half-shekel—a specific weight of silver (around 7 grams of silver)—and then they counted these coins.

When Rabbi Hirsh was asked why he left such a large community in numbers order to assist and lead nine small families who were fighting for their Jewish life with great courage and fortitude, he responded:

"G-d doesn't count Jews. He weighs them."


Shabbat Shalom and Happy Rosh Chodesh Sivan on Sunday,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

Comments on: G-D WEIGHS THE JEWS?

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