A Short Vort for Shabbos:
Parshat Ki Tisa
Parshat Ki Tisa tells the tragic story of the "chet ha'egel" - the sin of the golden calf. Among the repercussions of this terrible incident for Bnai Yisrael, was the substitution of the firstborn, the B’chorim, with the tribe of Levi as those who will serve in the M’shartai Hashem, the service of God in the Mishkan. Since the tribe of Levi refrained from participating in the debacle, they earned the privilege of ministering in the Temple. As we know from Parashat Korach, the firstborn harbored intense feelings of resentment over their loss of this distinction.
In truth, however, the Levi'im received this honor not for having refused to join in the worship of the Golden calf, but for their response in the aftermath of this incident. When Moshe will give his final blessings to the tribes at the end of Devarim, 33:9-10, prior to his death, Moshe will allude to this specific merit of the tribe of Levi.
What happens? When Moshe comes down from Har Sinai, and saw the goings on with the Golden calf, Moshe declared:
כו וַיַּעֲמֹד מֹשֶׁה, בְּשַׁעַר הַמַּחֲנֶה, וַיֹּאמֶר, מִי לַיקוָק אֵלָי; וַיֵּאָסְפוּ אֵלָיו, כָּל-בְּנֵי לֵוִי.
"Whoever is for God - come here!" (Shemot 32:26). The tribe of Levi gathered round, and Moshe ordered them to execute the perpetrators of the sin.
With this response, what made the tribe of Levi worthy of serving in the Mikdash?
One answer is because Levi answered the call in the time of need.
This is the opinion of the Chafetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan. He said that the service in the Mishkan or Mikdash is reserved for those who answer to the call in times of need. At certain times throughout one’s life, says the Chafetz Chaim, a person hears a silent call … מי לה' אלי.
"Whoever is for God - come gather to me." Situations arise requiring proactive involvement and selfless devotion. Most of the nation will remain idle rather than hurrying to Moshe in response to this call. Some, however, zealously drop what they're doing and rush to act; only these people earn the right of performing the sacred service in the Mikdash.
The Netziv fills this idea out a bit: Mi LaHashem Ailai…
When Moshe declares this, he was not referring to those who did not engage in idolatry (the Ramban does not view the Cheit haEgel as idolatry…against Rashi, the Netziv follows Rashi that it was Avodah Zara), because in fact, the majority of the nation did not worship the egel haZahav. Rather, Moshe was asking for people who knew that they themselves would give over themselves and all they had for the love of God and God’s glory.
Moshe wanted active participants in the service of God. Levi responded to that.
Shimon and Levi are both people of action when seeing an injustice. It is not just reacting but, of seeing the context.
This simple, though ever so meaningful explanation brings to mind a similar message some have brought out from the sequence of parshiyot earlier in Sefer Shemot. According to Rashi, God ordered the construction of the Mishkan only after the incident of the golden calf, despite its appearance in the Torah earlier. Some have suggested that for good reason the Torah juxtaposed the command of the Mishkan - at the beginning of Parashat Teruma - specifically following Benei Yisrael's declaration of "Na'aseh ve-nishma" ("we will do and we will hear" - at the end of Parashat Mishpatim). This teaches us that resolute declarations and promises mean little without a follow-up of concrete action. Good intentions and emotional identification with an important cause are important but of far less significance than active involvement. Therefore, the Torah follows the nation's heroic proclamation with the commandment of the mishkan: "Tell Benei Yisrael that they shall bring for Me a donation… " (Shemot 25:2).
The Bet Ha-mikdash, the spiritual backbone of the Jewish people, is built by those who generously give of their time and resources for the cause of building this backbone. The Mikdash is similarly run by the tribe of Levi, who demonstrated zeal and fervor at a critical time in the nation's history. And this zeal must be a zealotry for God. Not for one's own personal advancement, glory or fear. We can learn a great deal from the example of Levi. We need to remain steadfast to how we practice religion. There is a danger that religious observance and religious strictness for its own sake can become idolatrous; Halakha (Jewish law), can become so rigid that often its own form of false worship when not directed toward Godly ends can become Avodah Zarah.
We have a great challenge before us in our service to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. e to the threat of the COVID - 19 virus, many shuls, schools and organizations have made the responsible decision to close their doors temporarily for the sake of the health of our members, our community and our country. Make no mistake, the directive of ונשמרתם מאד את נפשותיכם - to take care and guard yourself very well - "m'od". In addition to this being a moral obligation to preserve one's self - this is a religious mandate being observed. But, it goes beyond ourselves. We must ensure the health and success of our health systems in place. We cannot afford to have them unravel. We must ensure this now.
As our community acts to do our part to help contain this pandemic, we are given the option to remember: mi LaHashem Eilai - As Moshe said, whoever is with Hashem come with me. We follow the wisdom of the leadership who has the forethought and resolve to put aside the deep love of ritual and community for in exchange for safety, preservation and the greater good of our health and strength. As difficult and challenging as it is, take pride in this decision and see it as acting in the genuine service of Hashem.