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What is the Kabbalah behind the Kohanim and Levites?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg


Library » Jewish Identity » Kohains and Levites » The Holy Tribe | Subscribe | What is RSS?


In the teachings of Kabbalah it is explained that the Levite souls emanate from the Divine attribute of Gevurah (severity and discipline), as opposed to the Kohanim, whose souls are rooted in G-d's trait of Chesed (kindness).

Fire is the metaphor for Gevurah. Just as fire constantly rises upwards, so, too, the Levites' singing in the Temple served to elevate the sacrifices to their Divine source. Along with the physical sacrifice, the "Animal Soul" of the person offering the sacrifice was also elevated by means of the Levites' singing. Song has an "elevating" quality, possessing the ability to spiritually uplift a person. This is synonymous with the premise behind Gevurah, discipline, which expects a person to "reach up," to refine himself in order to rightfully earn any Divine benefit.

According to the writings of the preeminent mystic, the Arizal, during the Messianic Era the Levites of today will become the Kohanim
Conversely, Chesed is allegorically compared to refreshing water, which naturally flows downwards. The aim of the Kohanims' Temple service was to "draw down" atonement on behalf of the penitent sinner, and to reestablish him in G-d's good graces. Likewise, it is the Kohen's task to draw blessing upon the entire nation, via the incantation of the Priestly Blessing.

In today's world, we are heavily reliant on G-d's unmitigated beneficence and infinite kindness. Therefore, the Kohanim, whose service was aligned with, and designed to elicit, this trait, are the more prominent of G-d's servants.

However, according to the writings of the preeminent mystic, the Arizal, during the Messianic Era the Levites of today will become the Kohanim. After Moshiach leads us to the Redemption, we will reach a state of perfection and personal discipline which will lead us to relative "independence" from G-d's kindness -- for we will rightfully earn all our rewards. At that time, the pure and lofty service of the Levites will be in higher demand!


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The Messiah. Moshiach is the person who will usher in an era of peace and tranquility for all of humanity when there will be no jealousy or hate, wars or famine. This is a fundamental Jewish belief.
A descendant of Levi, son of Jacob. The Levites were the teachers and spiritual leaders in the Land of Israel. They had various responsibilities in the Holy Temple, including choir and orchestral duties.
Plural form of Kohain. Priests of G-d. This title belongs to the male descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses. The primary function of the Kohain was to serve in the Holy Temple. Today the Kohain is still revered and it is his function to recite the Priestly Blessings on certain occasions.
Jewish mysticism. The word Kaballah means "reception," for we cannot physically perceive the Divine, we merely study the mystical truths which were transmitted to us by G-d Himself through His righteous servants.
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
Rabbi Isaac Luria, the 15th Century founder of Modern Kabbalah.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.