Posts tagged " Numbers 8 "

Didn’t the Levites retire? Why can’t I?

June 4th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 22 comments

In your teaching on ancient Jewish wisdom you say two words that are not in the bible but which are commonly used are retirement and coincidence. While coincidence implies God is not in control yet all things are clearly designed by Him, when I came across the age limit in priesthood I thought that is retirement. Please explain the 50 years limit of a priest. What does it say in Hebrew?

Simon M.

Dear Simon

If we can rephrase your question a bit for those who haven’t heard the teaching, we explain an ancient Jewish wisdom principle that that if a word doesn’t exist in Hebrew then the concept doesn’t exist. We are not speaking of “things” —obviously a telephone isn’t found in Biblical Hebrew—but of universal concepts. So there are words for the idea of communication but a telephone is just one example of a method of communicating.

One chapter in our book, Thou Shall Prosper, is entitled “Never Retire.” In it, we make the point that the word retirement is not Biblical, hence the concept is incorrect. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to elaborate on the seeming contradiction you noted in Numbers 8: 24-25.

To begin with, the Hebrew word is “yaShuv” from the verb “to return.” Although the English commonly translates that as “retire” it is more in the sense that a novel in the 1800s might have said that the man “retired to the country.” That did not mean he wasn’t going to be active the next day, simply that he was withdrawing from a certain place and going to another one.

If you read further in Numbers to verse 26, you can see that the Levite above the age of 50 is not heading off to play golf but simply switching tasks. Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the “retirement” refers to the specific job of carrying items on his shoulders in the Tent of the Meeting. However, he remains responsible for other jobs.

As a society it makes sense that certain jobs that require extreme physical skills such as fireman might have age restrictions.  The way in which the Biblical concept differs from that of our society is that as long as the person is mentally and physically capable of contributing to society in any form whatsoever, they should do so. Certainly, one might have to move from one function to another, but sitting at home waiting for one’s pension check and focusing only on pleasing oneself tends to hurt the individual as well as the society.

Hope this clears things up a bit,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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