SALT - Wednesday, 24 Iyar 5779 - May 29, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
            We read in Parashat Bamidbar of God’s pronouncement that He has chosen the Leviyim as the sacred tribe, replacing the firstborns.  He explains, “For every firstborn was Mine on the day I struck every firstborn in the land of Egypt; I consecrated every firstborn in Israel” (3:13).  Now, however, after the construction of the Mishkan, God substituted the firstborns with the tribe of Levi.  The subsequent verses describe how each Levi replaced one firstborn, and the remaining firstborns paid a sum of money to release themselves of their sacred stature.  The commentaries explain that the tribe of Levi earned this privilege by being the only tribe which did not participate in the sin of the golden calf.  (This is indicated by the fact that after the sin of the calf, Moshe summoned all those who had remained loyal to God, and the tribe of Levi assembled around him – Shemot 32:26.)
            God concludes this pronouncement by declaring, “Ani Hashem” – “I am the Lord” (3:13).  Rav Saadia Gaon explains this as emphasizing that it was God who elevated the tribe of Levi to this stature.  It seems, according to this interpretation, that God here in a sense sought to preempt the complaints of Korach and his cohorts who would later accuse Moshe of selfishly reserving the privileges associated with the Mishkan for members of his own tribe.
            Seforno, however, explains differently.  He suggests that “ani Hashem” should be understood as emphasizing God’s permanence, that He never changes.  Benei Yisrael may have figured that God simply changed His mind in deciding the transfer the privileges of serving in the Mishkan from the firstborns to the Leviyim.  God therefore proclaimed, “Ani Hashem,” to make it clear that, in Seforno’s words, “I did not change when I rejected the firstborns, for this change occurred not because of Me, but rather because of them, in that they sinned.”  The reason for replacing the firstborns was not any change in God’s mind, as it were, but solely the grave sin of the golden calf.
            Often, when we fail or forfeit an opportunity, we instinctively point to external factors and conditions as the reason for our failure or loss.  We assume the mistake was made by somebody else, or resulted from conditions beyond our control.  But while sometimes this may be correct, at other times, we ourselves are to blame.  Just as God emphasized to the firstborns that they forfeited their privileges not because of Him, but because of their mistake, similarly, many of our missed opportunities are the result of our missteps, and cannot be blamed on anybody or anything else.  It is far more tempting to cast the blame on other people or external factors, but it is only by acknowledging our mistakes that we are capable of learning from our failures and growing.  If we accustom ourselves to blame our troubles and disappointments on others, we will find ourselves mired in fruitless resentment and bitterness.  But if we have the humility and honesty to recognize what we could have done better, we help ensure that in the future we will do it better, and in this way we will grow and improve with every mistake we make, thereby turning each one into a valuable growth experience.