By: Rabbi Moshe Goodman, Kollel Ohr Shlomo, Hebron
Inviting the Holy Presence in Our Holy Land
The Levite Cities
“And give us a portion in Your Torah.” All Israel have a portion in the Torah. However, one tribe, the Levites, have such a special “portion” and connection to Hashem and the Torah to such an extent that this spiritual “portion” “overrides” their physical portion in the Land of Israel – “and a portion you shall not give them (in the Land of Israel) for I (Hashem) am their portion.” (Yehezkel 44, 28) This does not mean that the Levites do not have a connection to the Land of Israel, God forbid, but rather that the Levites do not receive large portions of land meant for agricultural work. Instead, the Levites receive 48 cities scattered throughout the Land of Israel, where the Levites are meant to concentrate on spiritual work, thereby acting as spiritual centers that illuminate the cities around them with the light of the Torah.
In truth, the 48 Levite cities are comprised of 42 Levite cities and 6 Refuge cities. Fascinatingly, the number 42 reappears in this parsha in context of the 42 encampments of Israel in the wilderness on their journey to the Land of Israel. This interesting parallel in our parsha can be explained by the kabbalistic explanation of the number 42 (such as in the Ana Bekoah prayer comprised of 42 letters by acrostic). This number, according to the kabbalists, alludes to spiritual ascent. Therefore, this number is used in context of Israel’s ascent to the Land of Israel from Egypt through 42 encampments. Also, the 42 Levite cities are cities of spiritual “ascent”. In a similar way, during the Omer Count we say the Ana Bekoah prayer which contains 42 letters by acrostic and 7 “summaries of letters” each comprised of 6 letters. Thus, 42 plus these 7 “summaries of letters” equals 49, the number of days of the Omer Count. In this case too, these 42 letters are meant to aid one’s spiritual “ascent” towards Shavuot, the Day of the Giving of the Torah, the fiftieth day. Also, in the Land of Israel there is a fifty-year count till the Yovel (Jubilee) year. Interestingly, the numerical value of “Yovel” is 48, which is also the number of Levite Cities [42 plus 6], a matter which strengthens, even more, the Levites cities’ identity with the “ascent” of the Omer Count, comprised of 42 plus 7 days. If so, it seems that in addition to the 48 Levite cities there should be a 49th and 50th level to these “holy locations of ascent”.
The Temple is divided into two primary levels of sanctity mentioned in context of the Mishkan as the “Courtyard of the Mishkan” and the Mishkan itself. It may be that these two divisions allude to the 49th and 50th levels we just mentioned. Indeed, we find that halacha says that the altar, found in “Courtyard of the Mishkan”, can serve as a place of “refuge” (albeit after a number of additional conditions) for a person who committed manslaughter through negligence, just as the 48 Levite cities serve as places of refuge for such a person. In this way, part of the Beit Hamikdash/Mishkan acts as the 49th place of refuge. Nevertheless, it is clear that the “Mishkan itself” is an even holier location of ascent, and this location may allude to the 50th loftiest level.
All this said, we should note that among the 48 Levite Cities there is no question that Hebron ranks as the leading Levite/Refuge City. Among the Levite cities there are thirteen “Kohanic Cities” as the kohanim are also part of the “Levitic tribe”. Nevertheless, it is clear that just as the kohanim hold a superior status to the leviim so too the Kohanic cities hold a superior status compared to the other Levite cities. Only one of these thirteen Kohanic cities is both mentioned first in the book of Yehoshua, elaborated on, and also titled “the Refuge City”. This city is no other than Hebron the City of Spiritual Ascent.
Throughout antiquity, Jews have made pilgrimage and spiritual “ascent” to Maarat HaMachpela, also the place of spiritual ascent for souls to the afterlife. As such, Jews have also safeguarded Maarat Hamachpela throughout the generations. For example, about a thousand years ago “Rabbi Saadia Hahevroni” held an important position in “the Society for the Tombs of the Patriarchs,” which is Maarat HaMachpela.
Real Stories from the Holy Land #271
“Our laptop, used for work, was under repair for several weeks. We were told that it would take at-least another 4-5 weeks to get it back. Although we managed with the work-load nevertheless for several weeks, one day we came to the conclusion that we had no choice but to find a temporary computer to keep up with the work-load. That very day we got the laptop back, repaired”.
Sources: Sefer Hebron p. 126, Rambam Rotzeah 5, 12
Comments, questions, and/or stories, email [email protected]