Between the Lines—Bemidbar

Weekly Midrash Learning with Rabbi Andy Shugerman

 

Numbers Rabbah 5:1 
אל תכריתו את שבט וגו' הה"ד (תהלים לג) הנה עין ה' אל יראיו וגו' להציל ממות נפשם וגו' הנה עין ה' אל יראיו וגו' זה שבטו של לוי שהם יושבים ומקוים לחסדו של הקב"ה וכי כל הבריות אינן מיחלים לחסדו של הקב"ה אלא ביותר שבטו של לוי שלא נטלו חלק בארץ אלא יושבים ומתפללים שתעשה ארץ ישראל פירותיה כדי שיטלו מעשרותיהם שאין להם כלום בעולם אלא חסדו של הקב"ה הוי למיחלים לחסדו

Do not let the group of Kohathite clans be cut off from the Levites. (Num. 4:18) Elsewhere it is written in Scripture: Truly, the eye of the Lord is on those who revere Him, [who wait for His faithful care] to save them from death . . . (Ps. 33:18-19) This applies to the tribe of Levi, who patiently wait for the loving-kindness of the Blessed Holy One. But do not all creatures look to the loving-kindness of the Blessed Holy One? Yes, but more especially the tribe of Levi, who did not receive a portion in the Promised Land and therefore diligently prayed that the Land of Israel might yield its fruit in order that they might receive their tithes [from the other tribes], for they had nothing in the world but the loving-kindness of the Blessed Holy One. Thus it says: . . . who wait for His faithful care . . . 


I decided to become a rabbi largely due to a teaching like the midrash above, and its spiritual wisdom bolsters my work as a teacher and fund-raiser for The Jewish Theological Seminary. After my first year of college, I interned for a Jewish spiritual retreat center, working long summer days in exchange for the opportunity to take part in an intentional community and to learn from teachers of mysticism, meditation, music, and the arts. One of those teachers, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, spoke to my cohort of interns one evening about the sacred schlepping work we were doing there each day to enable others to renew their hearts, souls, bodies, and minds. He compared us to the Levites in our often thankless and behind-the-scenes roles, and commended our dedication as akin to that required of the different clans who made our people's ancient worship possible.

Since making the transition from JTS student to JTS staff three years ago, I have regularly told my students and donors how a debt of gratitude to my alma mater fuels what I do now. Not only did JTS train me superbly as a rabbi and educator, but almost all of my tuition was covered through merit-based fellowships contingent upon communal service. I articulate that good fortune as God's faithful care and loving-kindness, and encourage folks who learn with me to bless my junior classmates generously in the same way that I received support from others' righteous giving.

As we commemorate the first-fruits offering on Shavu'ot, and as the end of this fiscal year approaches, I pray that my colleagues and I will again inspire JTS's supporters to share their bounty for training our next generation of Jewish leaders.