Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Numbers: Chapter 18

All that rises

All that is first

A gift and gifted

Given and giving

Placed only in You

[For full chapter, click here
After all the battles and controversy, this chapter comes to both consolidate and redefine the position of Aaron , while subtly answering some of Korah's contentions. The change is encapsulated in the chapter's two  key words roots: sh'm'r, to guard, protect, keep; and n't'n, to give, given, a gift. 
The priesthood is now defined primarily as protection. In contrast to Korah's assertion that Moses and Aaron are "carrying themselves" (n's'a) over the rest of Israel, God defines the priesthood as "carrying (n's'a) the sin of the sanctuary". The kohanim guard Israel from the dangers of too much closeness and are the guardians of the holy. 
Levi  is also redefined. Their role as connector here becomes "accompaniment" (l'v'i--the literal meaning of the tribe's name).  "Your brothers, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, bring them close with you, let them accompany you, and minister to you..." Levi here becomes the extension of Aaron,the brother who walk along with him. They too are guardians, offering a wider circle of protection. Yet simultaneously, they remain "from within the Children of Israel", keeping the priests connected to the people.
In answer to Karah's questioning of Aaron's deserving, the priesthood is defined as a "gift": "a gift service". Freely given, it cannot be questioned, and asks no deserving. Yet even as they are given gifts, the priests and Levites are also "given"--netunim. It is a mutual giving and taking. 
What is more, every gifts excludes others. In being gifted the service, the kohanim are not given the "land that God gave" to the Israel. They're only placement is God Himself. "I am their part and inheritance within the children of Israel".
Apart, but not truly separate, Levi and the priests are the part of Israel that has been given a different, more dangerous, inheritance. They, like the gifts given to them, are what "rises" (teruma, commonly translated as "heave offering")--a part of the while, yet set aside. ]

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