In this week’s Torah portion of Ki Sisa we find the tragic sin of the golden calf. When Moshe Rabbeinu came down from Mount Sinai and saw what was taking place he charged, “Who is for Hashem come to me” (Shemos 32:26). The Daas Zekeinim says that what Moshe meant was, whoever stood with fear of Hashem and did not stumble in the sin of the golden calf should come to me.
The Daas Zekeinim continues, “Immediately all of the tribe of Levi gathered around Moshe, for the tribe was complete and not one man was effected but not one tribe was found completely unscathed by all the other tribes, and therefore it writes (Devarim 33:9), ‘who said of his father and his mother, I do not see him’ by the act of the golden calf, ‘neither did he recognize his brothers,’ by the golden calf, ‘nor did he know his children,’ by the golden calf, ‘for they [all] observed Your word,] as opposed to the other tribes.”
The Daas Zekeinim goes on to explain why only the tribe of Levi in its totality did not sin, “And it would seem because the tribe of Levi were relatives to Moshe, not one of them wanted to replace him with another leader. And in the book of the Rambam he says that Avraham gave over the acceptance of the Torah to Yitzchak, and Yitzchak to Yaakov, and Yaakov to Levi, and his children set up yeshivas so that Torah would not disappear from them at all. And therefore, they were not subjugated in Egyptian bondage for they weren’t involved in any other work in their lifetime except toiling in Torah. And it would appear that there were 3 groups by the sin of the golden calf: (1) One group said who will walk before us and they only intended to gain a leader. (2) Another group accepted it as an idol and they were the 3000 people that were killed by the sword. (3) The tribe of Levi who all clung to Hashem.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
There are many questions that can be asked on this Daas Zekeinim. Among them:
(A) the reason why the tribe of Levi didn’t take part in the sin was because they couldn’t come to replace their relative even though it would seem he might not be coming back, though a new leader to lead this fledgling nation would be warranted; so why did the Daas Zekeinim then bring in the Rambam? And even if the first reason and the Rambam are two different reasons, corresponding to why the tribe of Levi were not in the first two groups, why then isn’t it expressed as two different reasons? It sounds from the flow of the Daas Zekeinim that he is adding a reason as to why they did not give up on their relative.
(B) Furthermore, why did he have to mention that for the reason the Rambam gave the tribe of Levi was not enslaved in Egypt? What does that have to do with not sinning by the golden calf?
(C) Also, the Daas Zekeinim had mentioned there were others who joined the tribe of Levi who feared Hashem and did not stumble in the sin of the golden calf, but it was just that no other complete tribe was sin-free besides Levi. So which group did they belong to?
(D) Lastly, if you look at the Rambam in the actual text, he did not quote the Rambam accurately; and even if he summarized the Rambam’s teaching, it would seem he missed the point?!
The Rambam wrote: “…He [Avraham] was [saved through] a miracle and left for Charan. [There,] he began to call in a loud voice to all people and inform them that there is one God in the entire world and it is proper to serve Him. He would go out and call to the people, gathering them in city after city and country after country, until he came to the land of Canaan – proclaiming [God’s existence the entire time] – as [Genesis 21:33] states: ‘And He called there in the name of the Lord, the eternal God.’ When the people would gather around him and ask him about his statements, he would explain [them] to each one of them according to their understanding, until they turned to the path of truth. Ultimately, thousands and myriads gathered around him. These are the men of the house of Avraham. He planted in their hearts this great fundamental principle, composed texts about it, and taught it to Yitzchak, his son. Yitzchak also taught others and turned [their hearts to God]. He also taught Yaakov and appointed him as a teacher. [Yaakov] taught others and turned [the hearts] of all those who gathered around him [to God]. He also taught all of his children. He selected Levi and appointed him as the leader. He established him [as the head of] the yeshiva to teach them the way of God and observe the mitzvos of Avraham. [Yaakov] commanded his sons that the leadership should not depart from the descendants of Levi, so that the teachings would not be forgotten. This concept proceeded and gathered strength among the descendants of Jacob and those who collected around them, until there became a nation within the world which knew God. When the Jews extended their stay in Egypt, however, they learned from the [Egyptians’] deeds and began worshiping the stars as they did, with the exception of the tribe of Levi, who clung to the mitzvos of the patriarchs – the tribe of Levi never served false gods. Within a short time, the fundamental principle that Avraham had planted would have been uprooted, and the descendants of Yaacov would have returned to the errors of the world and their crookedness. Because of God’s love for us, and to uphold the oath He made to Avraham, our patriarch, He brought forth Moshe, our teacher, the master of all prophets, and sent him [to redeem the Jews]. After Moshe, our teacher, prophesied, and God chose Israel as His inheritance, He crowned them with mitzvos and informed them of the path to serve Him, [teaching them] the judgement prescribed for idol worshipers and all those who stray after it” (Rambam Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 1:3).
The Torah is the blueprints of creation and the handbook for mankind, and in fact it was always around and taught and observed by people from the beginning of time. For example, Yeshiva Shem viEver (See the Kesef Mishna on this Rambam). However, until the Jewish people as a nation accepted the Torah on Har Sinai, Torah, observance was not an obligation for anyone but just the right thing to do, which Avraham figured out on his own after it was lost to the masses for many years. He gave over his beliefs and the Torah he was able to figure out on his own to Yitzchak, who in turn taught it to Yaakov, who, in turn, in fact taught it to all his children, the 12 tribes, but appointed Levi as the leader of the mesora, tradition, and the leadership of the mesora was to be passed down from generation to generation through the tribe of Levi. So, it would seem that the reason why the tribe of Levi never stumbled in idol worship was because they felt a responsibility as leaders to uphold the mesora their forefathers gave them of keeping the Torah. If that is the case, what does that have to do with what the Daas Zekeinim said that they “set up yeshivas so that Torah would not disappear from them at all?” Where is that mentioned anywhere in the Rambam? The reason why they weren’t involved in idol worship and therefore were not involved in the sin of the golden calf was because they felt obligated to stick to a higher moral standard since they were expected to be leaders, not because they opened up yeshivas and were constantly engrossed in Torah learning?!
It would seem though that the Daas Zekeinim understood that even leaders with expectations of higher moral standards can fall prey to the temptations around them in an immoral society. Therefore it must be that only because they were so involved in toiling in Torah that it became their life force, their bloodline, to the extent that even the Egyptians saw their commitment and allowed them to not join the physical workforce of slavery. Not only was the leader of the generation involved in Torah learning, but the entire tribe was involved in opening up yeshivas and learning in them fulltime, and it made an impact on others, causing them to join at least on some level, which instilled in them Fear of Heaven and a moral code. For this reason, the tribe of Levi as a whole did not sin at all by the golden calf, and presumably those who felt a profound influence from the tribe of Levi were included in the group of those who were G-D fearing and did not succumb to the sin of the golden calf. Also, without that commitment to the Torah and its moral code, presumably they would not have been steadfast to their relative, Moshe Rabbeinu, and they would have lost hope, as others did, of him ever returning.
We learn from here that there must be a group of people who are totally committed to being completely engrossed in the learning and teaching of Torah to themselves and the masses in order for Torah to be correctly observed and preserved. We see this is true even today. What is happening now, in this day and age with the Jewish landscape seems to mirror what the Rambam is describing. May we find our “Moshe Rabbeinu” who will redeem us and brings us to the Final Redemption, speedily in our days.