Priests and Levites: Duties and Gifts

Jun 14, 2015

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֶל־אַהֲרֹן אַתָּה וּבָנֶיךָ וּבֵית־אָבִיךָ אִתָּךְ תִּשְׂאוּ אֶת־עֲוׂן הַמִּקְדָּשׁ וְאַתָּה וּבָנֶיךָ אִתָּךְ תִּשְׂאוּ אֶת־עֲוׂן כְּהֻנַּתְכֶם׃

Hashem said to Aharon: You and your sons and the ancestral house under your charge shall bear any guilt connected with the sanctuary; you and your sons alone shall bear any guilt connected with your priesthood.

Numbers 18:1

וְלֹא־תִשְׂאוּ עָלָיו חֵטְא בַּהֲרִימְכֶם אֶת־חֶלְבּוֹ מִמֶּנּוּ וְאֶת־קָדְשֵׁי בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא תְחַלְּלוּ וְלֹא תָמוּתוּ׃

You will incur no guilt through it, once you have removed the best part from it; but you must not profane the sacred donations of the Israelites, lest you die.

Numbers 18:32

God reiterates to Aaron the role he and his descendants will play in the Tabernacle for all time. They are to perform the rites of atonement, and while the Levites are to offer support to the priests, it is the responsibility of Aaron and his descendants to ensure they do not come in contact with the holy vessels directly, lest they be killed.

 

God also designates certain gifts to be dedicated to the priests and the Levites. A portion of every heave offering, meal offering, sin offering and guilt offering are to be given to the priests. Other gifts, such as the first fruits of a farmer’s field, are also for the use of the priests. All of these are considered holy and may be consumed in holiness by members of the priest’s household. Additionally, God dedicates the firstborns, either their rate of redemption or the animal itself, depending on the status of the firstborn, to the priests.

 

God then tells Aaron that he and his tribe will have no share in the Land of Israel as an inheritance. Instead, the Children of Israel will be required to give a tenth of their produce to the Levites, as payment for their service in the Tabernacle. The Levites in turn are to give a tithe on the tithe they receive, turning it over to the priests. These tithes should be chosen from the best of the crop. As the Israel Bible points out, tithes are another example of a commandment that applies only to the Land of Israel. Like the commandment to take challah (Numbers 15:17-21), these physical gifts provide sustenance to the spiritual leaders of Israel in exchange for the provision of spiritual sustenance. The work of the priests and Levites elevated everyone’s existence in the Land.

 

Virtual Classroom Discussion

Why do you think the Levites must also tithe the portions they receive? What can we learn from this law?

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