Intergenerational Training

Numbers Hizkuni: Behaalotcha

Intergenerational Training

The Rabbis of the Talmud, when asked to give advice on what career a young adult should pursue, recommend that a person should stick to their family business.

In a seemingly unrelated passage, the Torah explains that the Levites shall take the place of the Firstborns in the service of God in the Tabernacle (Numbers 8:16). This consecration of the tribe of Levi is transferred later on to the service of the Temple of Jerusalem. Most commentators relate that during the Sin of the Golden Calf all the tribes, including the Firstborns participated. The only tribe not to participate was the Tribe of Levi. This distinction gave them the honor, privilege and responsibility of replacing the previous role of the Firstborns.

Rabbi Hizkiyah ben Manoach (Hizkuni) gives a completely different, but very practical reason why the Firstborns were supplanted. It is entirely likely and statistically inevitable that a majority of children will not be Firstborn. Furthermore, a majority of Firstborns will not have fathers that are Firstborns (this is becoming less true in modern times with declining fertility rates).

As such, Hizkuni explains that a majority of Firstborns will not have a Firstborn parent that could ‘teach them the ropes’ of the Tabernacle service. This will lead to unfamiliarity and potential mistakes. Because of this susceptibility to error a new arrangement was devised: the Levites. To have an entire tribe dedicated to the Tabernacle service would ensure that the traditions, laws, procedures and ceremonies would be properly handed down from one generation to the next, with minimized possibility of error from lack of intergenerational training.

Hence, the Talmud’s assertion of the great value as well as the increased chances of greater material success of sons following the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers in their choice of profession.

May we value the work, direction and choices of our ancestors and may we leave a worthy path for our descendants.

Shabbat Shalom,



To Mikhail and Alexei/Eliyahu Bezeliansky on their extraordinary hosting and for their courageous continuation of intergenerational tradition.

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