75 words for 75 years of Israel – Levaya/Funeral

In honor of Israel’s 75th birthday, Israel365 is excited to launch a new series of essays that will unlock the secrets of the Hebrew Bible!

Excerpted from Rabbi Akiva Gersh’s forthcoming book, 75 Hebrew Words You Need to Understand the Bible (available soon!) these essays illuminate the connection between related Hebrew words, revealing Biblical secrets only accessible through Hebrew.

Enjoy the series – and happy 75th birthday to the State of Israel!

לְוָיָה

LEVAYA

LE-VA-YAH

FUNERAL

“You shall rejoice in your festival, with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow in your communities.” (Deuteronomy 16:14)

ושמחת בחגך אתה ובנך ובתך ועבדך ואמתך והלוי והגר והיתום והאלמנה אשר בשעריך

“He is always generous, and lends, and his children are held blessed.” (Psalms 37:26)

כל־היום חונן ומלוה וזרעו לברכה

Levaya, Hebrew for “funeral,” is derived from the verb “to escort.” Jewish law obligates us to escort the body of the deceased all the way to the grave, to honor the person being buried.

We are also obligated to escort visitors upon their departure from our homes. Hosts are required to provide their guests with food, drink and “escort.” Escorting guests out of one’s home provides both physical and spiritual protection to people as they embark on their travels, a potentially dangerous endeavor in ancient times.

The Hebrew word l’halvot, “to lend,” is derived from the same root as levaya. When we help others by lending them money at a time of need, we “escort” them through a difficult chapter in their lives.

The word levaya also shares the same root as Levi’im, the people of the tribe of Levi. The Levites had the special honor of working in the Temple in Jerusalem as gatekeepers, guards and musicians whose music accompanied, or “escorted,” every sacrifice that was offered by the priests. 

During the 40 years of the Israelites’ journey through the desert, the people changed locations many times, requiring the Tabernacle to be dismantled and reconstructed with each move. The Levites were charged with carrying the various pieces and parts of the Tabernacle as the nation traveled, literally escorting the Tabernacle on its journey.

In the Land of Israel, the Levites were not allotted land like the other tribes, living instead in Levite cities scattered throughout Israel and subsisting on tithes and contributions. Their role was to serve as teachers to the rest of the nation and to escort them on their spiritual journeys through this world.

The Israel Bible Team

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