Avrumi Gross
Former Shaliach in Capetown


Those of us who serve as shlichim (emissaries) of the Torah, the Jewish people, and the Land of Israel – both in Israel and around the world – find ourselves under constant scrutiny. Our every word, handshake (or lack thereof), and, especially, conversation are noted – either to our credit or, chas v’shalom, to our disgrace.

Yet, one of our biggest responsibilities involves negation. We must negate ourselves with respect to the public, the mitzvot of the Torah, and our tiny country. And our interlocutors take note of the manner in which we comport ourselves in this regard.

“One who increases the Honor of Heaven and restricts his own honor – the Honor of Heaven is increased, and his honor is increased.” (Midrash Rabah 3:20)

The Sfat Emet (5644) wonders what the Midrash is telling us. After all, it is fairly obvious that one who focuses on his own honor leaves little room for the Honor of Heaven. Furthermore, how does restricting one’s own honor actually serve to increase it?

Characteristically, the Sfat Emet explains that negating oneself with respect to Heaven affects one’s attitude towards others. By definition, a person who negates himself honors those around him, and as a result, he is honored by others. And when those other people realize that this approach stems from one’s selfnegation with respect to the Creator, they come to honor both the person himself as well as the impetus for his exemplary conduct.

This idea can be extended to the Leviim’s substitution of the firstborns:

“And behold, I have taken the Levites from among the Children of Israel, in place of every firstborn who opened a womb among the Children of Israel; and the Levites shall be Mine. For every firstborn is Mine, on the day I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified for Myself every firstborn in Israel, from man to beast; they shall be Mine, I am Hashem.” (Bamidbar 3:12- 13)

The Beit HaMikdash – including its inherent kedushah (sanctity) and the avodah (the service executed by the kohanim) – does not merely symbolize the potential for man’s connection to Hashem. Rather, the Beit HaMikdash is the site of HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s Magnificence, Glory, and Honor. Hence, those who serve in the Beit HaMikdash must also represent HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s Honor.

Initially, the firstborns are selected for this task. In the wake of makat bechorot (the Plague of the Firstborn Sons), the firstborns’ very existence is testament to HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s supreme power. Only Hashem can remove “a nation from the midst of a nation” (Devarim 4:34) and kill all the firstborns except for the Jewish ones.

However, during chet ha’egel (the Sin of the Golden Calf), the firstborns squander their privileged position. In their stead, HaKadosh Baruch Hu selects the Leviim, who respond to the cry, “Whoever is for Hashem, to me.” (Shmot 32:26) The Leviim are uniquely prepared to kill for the sake of HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s desecrated Honor. Thus, they clearly demonstrate that they are willing to negate themselves absolutely in order to bring HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s Honor to the world.

May we be privileged to negate ourselves with respect to others and to glorify HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s Name and Honor.

“May it be Your will, Hashem, our God and the God of our forefathers, that You enable us to serve as faithful emissaries for Your Name, for Your Torah, for Your Nation, and for Your Land, with humility and fear of Heaven.”