“And the Levites shall encamp around the Tabernacle of Testimony so that there be no wrath upon community of the Children of Israel; and they shall engage in the guarding of the Tabernacle of Testimony.”
This is one a numerous verses that charge the Levites with the job of protecting the sacred shrine from inappropriate incursions while thereby also protecting the Israelites from the mortal consequences that could befall them should they attempt to enter the Tabernacle at the wrong time or in the wrong state of being. This role of guardianship is the direct result of the special status of the Levites. God says: “The Levites shall be Mine.” (Num. 3:12) God assigns to the Levites the role of protecting the holiness of the shrine and the wellbeing of the people. Both are especially precious to God.
What would be the role of the Levites today? Would they be the security guards that we have sadly decided are necessary for our safety and the safety of our holy places? Perhaps. We are all too aware these days of how sacred places have been defiled and destroyed or invaded and turned into battlegrounds instead of sacred grounds. We pray for the restoration of peace and quiet and the cessation of violence and death in the Holy Land and the Holy City.
But, closer to our own community, there is another dimension of protection – both of our sanctuaries and of our own selves – that a Levite would need to focus on. The Levite of today would do everything they could to push people to get vaccinated before they thought of entering the sanctuary.
We will never be able to re-enter our sanctuary together – in safety and in good faith – until every person who can possibly be vaccinated gets their shots. The scientists who have labored so relentlessly and so creatively to produce the vaccines now safely available deserve our gratitude and, more imperatively, our trust. Without granting trust to those laboring for the sake of our greater good we cannot hope to create a healthy community or a functioning society. There is no room anymore for doubts about the safety of the vaccines. The world is a gigantic laboratory of billions of experiments that has proven that vaccines work – they save lives and they lessen suffering.
The sanctity of our synagogue space demands that entry into its precincts be made with a deep sense of humility and dedication to the community for which the sanctuary serves as the center. And the sanctity of every human life demands that we relinquish the selfish idol worship that believes that each of us is not interconnected with the lives of others. The decisions each of us makes impacts multitudes beyond ourselves. We are responsible for the wellbeing of our brothers and sisters. We are their keepers, their guardians, their Levites. Getting vaccinated is not a personal choice – it is a collective imperative!
The central sanctuary is no longer; it has been replaced by multiple shrines constructed wherever communities need them. Similarly, the role of the Levites is no longer owned exclusively by one tribe or clan. We are all called to protect what is sacred, whether that be a space or an object, sanctified by the human spirit, or whether it be human life, itself, the ultimate source of Divine holiness here on earth.
Shabbat Shalom v’Hag Same`ah!
Rabbi David Greenstein
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Thank you to John Lasiter for suggesting the title and selecting an image for this Torah Sparks – Rabbi Greenstein
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