by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths
Why wasn’t the tribe of Levi enslaved by Pharaoh?[i] Let’s face it; Pharaoh was not a nice guy. Why would he allow all of those Jews to escape bondage?
There is the historical reason why they were not enslaved, and there is the spiritual reason.
The historical reason is that when Pharaoh first “invited” the Jews to join in the national effort to build Egypt, the tribe of Levi did not join in with the rest of the tribes. How were they allowed to exclude themselves from this work? When Yosef bought the land of Egypt for Pharaoh by selling the stored food to the starving Egyptians, the Egyptian priests escaped the forced sale of their land. They were able to keep their land due to the stipend that Pharaoh gave to them.[ii] Since they were supported by the state, they had no need to sell their land to buy food. When Pharaoh began the labor that ultimately turned into slavery, he simply extended his customary special treatment of the Egyptians priests to the tribe of Levi, since they were the teachers of Torah.
The spiritual reason is that the tribe of Levi escaped enslavement in order to teach us about Egyptian bondage. The concept “Egypt” signifies the limitations that the world imposes upon us. We all must go out into the physical world, i.e. Egypt, in order to find food and support our families. When we do this, there is a very real chance that we will become enslaved by our motives. Money can become the goal. Even after we have enough to be comfortable, we can still feel the burning need to work harder and harder in order to get more. We will have become enslaved by our own lusts for the physical world.
But what are we to do to? We must go out into the physical world in order to sustain ourselves. The Torah teaches that when we go out into the world the way the tribe of Levi went out, with our primary concern being Torah, “Egypt” will not be able to enslave us. We will move about freely, sustained without becoming stuck in the enticing physical world.
As always, the Torah is teaching both the physical, historical perspective as well as the mystical, ongoing perspective. We must learn of both these lessons in order to apply them to our lives.
[i] Exodus 5:4 Rashi
[ii] Genesis 47:22
BS"D - בסיעתא דשמיא