"And Moshe (Moshe) stood at the gateway to the camp and said, 'Whoever is for God, join me!', and all the Levites gathered around him" (Shmot 32:26).
Rashi says that the phrase "all the Levites" is mentioned to inform us that the entire tribe of Levi was "kosher". In other words, not a single Levite participated in the tragic golden-calf fiasco.
The Midrash, also cited in Rashi's commentary, tells that once the people started worrying about Moshe's apparent tardiness in coming down from Mount Sinai, the Satan seized the opportunity to create an atmosphere of darkness, chaos, and confusion. He even staged an image of Moshe on a bier being carried up to the heavens. Having lost their patience, the people were weak, gullible, and subsequently fooled, falling into a spiritual dive that crash-landed in idolatry.
In light of the above, we must ask ourselves, what gave the Levites the power to wait so patiently for Moshe? Why did the rest of the people lack patience, and fall prey to Satan's trap? What did they lack? To answer these questions, let me share with you the following parable:
Two of the King's guardsmen, both engaged to be married, were called away to the war. Before they joined their fellow troopers at the front, each was allowed to pay a brief farewell call to his respective fiancé.
The first guardsmen, a young officer of noble lineage, gave his intended, a refined daughter of one of the King's most trusted ministers, a rare gift: "My darling," he said soulfully, "this ring has been in my family for generations. I now give it to you as a token that I am forever bound to you. Hopefully, we will continue to pass this heirloom on to subsequent generations. So, no matter what happens, pray for me, be strong, and know that sooner or later, I will come home to you and to you only!" He then took his tearful exit.
The second guardsmen, a brave young officer but the son of common folk, simply presented his fiancé – a fishmonger's daughter – with flowers and sweets. Within a week, the flowers had wilted and the chocolates were eaten. It wasn't long before she forgot about the gifts and about her absentee fiancé as well.
A mere fortnight later – with no news from the front – the fishmonger's daughter began entertaining the overtures of a quick-tongued merchant in the marketplace. He flashed gold and silver before her, promising her the sun and the moon if she'd consent to marry him. Her eyes goggled as wide as one of the Warmouth Bass in her father's fish cart.
"Shall I decay in maidenhood forever?" lamented the fishmonger's daughter, forgetting her vows to the guardsman and easily tempted by the merchant's suave and slick style. She married him, discarding honor and loyalty for a life of food, drink, and merriment.
* * *
Every evening, the minister's daughter cast a yearning glance from her bedroom window. When her beloved fiancé would fail to appear, a lone tear would trickle down her cheek. But, after looking at the ring on her finger, a confident smile would appear on her face like the springtime sun emerging from the dark, gray clouds. "I'll wait for my beloved always!" Consoled, she'd sleep tranquilly like a newborn child.
A year passed. The King's legions ultimately overcame their enemies, and both guardsmen returned home. The second guardsmen, discovering that his fickle fiancé had left him for another, let his sword seek justice, executing both her and her fast-talking husband.
The first guardsman's heart rejoiced as he saw his beloved fiancé, framed in the upstairs window, patiently waiting for him. No words can describe the joy of their reunion, the happiness of their marriage, and the bliss of their subsequent lives for years to come. To this day, their ring – the most precious of heirlooms – is passed on to generation after generation of their offspring.
* * *
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains (Likutei Moharan I:155), that by way of emuna – true and complete faith in God – one acquires the attribute of patience. With patience, nothing can confuse or discourage a person. The power of patience enables us to ignore anything that attempts to interfere with our service of God. Patient people can therefore pray and learn Torah – doing what they have to do – without allowing anything or anyone to sway, tempt, or confuse them in any direction other than the way of God's commandments.
In light of Rebbe Nachman's principle, we can understand the above parable and this week's Torah portion: The guardsmen leaving for the front symbolize Moshe going up to Mount Sinai for forty days and nights. The first fiancé, the minister's daughter, represents the Levites.
The Levites, who never succumbed to slavery because they remained in Goshen learning the teachings of their forefathers, had a strongly developed sense of emuna. Their emuna gave them the patience to wait for Moshe no matter how long he tarried. They paid no attention to the Satan's antics, and ignored the confusing, chaotic images that were flickering in the sky. The noble guardsman's ring is therefore symbolic of the emuna and patience of the Levites, passed down from father to son. This ring enabled the first fiancé, the minister's daughter, to console herself and to wait patiently for her beloved at all costs and with no weakening of resolve.
The fishmonger's daughter had no ring, just as the "erev-rav", the riffraff of the nations had neither emuna nor patience, and together with the easily-influenced elements of Israel, were temped into idolatry.
Neither flowers nor chocolates – symbolic of life's amenities – give the Jewish people the moral strength to withstand the temptations of evil, especially in this generation. But, with emuna, we attain the tremendous inner power of patience that keeps us spiritually and emotionally robust in any situation. With such strength, we'll surely merit the complete redemption of our people and the rebuilding of our holy Temple in Jerusalem speedily and in our days, amen.
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