• Rabbi Michael Barclay

Table for Five: Beha’alotecha

The Song of the Levites


For all the firstborn among the children of Israel are Mine whether man or beast since the day I smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt; I have sanctified them for Myself. And I have taken the Levites instead of all the firstborn of the children of Israel. -Num. 8:17-18


My life changed when my sons were born. When I heard the mohel call their names, I heard myself called as the father to sons rather than as a son to my own father. For all first-time parents, this inner change is radical. We recognize that our actions have consequences for generations, take on a different sense of responsibility as teachers for our children, and think of those children before ourselves. Or at least, we should.


We are taught that when God dictated that the first-born Egyptians were to die, those elder sons went to their fathers and to Pharaoh, pleading to let the Hebrews go, for the sake of their lives. (Midrash Tanchuma Buber, Bo 18:1). But they were turned away, and ultimately died. An extreme example of father/son relationships gone wrong, all starting with fathers not thinking of their sons first.


Conversely, the Levites joyously sanctify their sons to God, teaching them the values of the priesthood as commanded. The fathers gratefully pass on the Divine obligation of service, and the culture prospers as a result of the priority being placed on children.


Father’s Day is only a few weeks away, and these verses remind us to reject Pharoah’s self-indulgent hatred; and rather to be like Levites, always placing our children first, teaching them righteousness, and leading them to serve God joyously.


May we all be righteous parents raising responsible children, and may we love our children more than we ever hate enemies. And as a result, may we have true peace between father and son, and between nations. L’dor V’dor, from generation to generation.


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