Kli Hamikdash - Chapter 3
The descendants of Levi were singled out for service in the Sanctuary, as [Deuteronomy 10:8] states: "At that time, God separated the tribe of Levi." It is a positive commandment for the Levites to be free and prepared for the service of the Sanctuary, whether they desire to do so or not, as [Numbers 18:23] states: "And the Levite shall perform the service of the tent of meeting." When a Levite accepts all the mitzvot of the Levites with the exception of one matter, he is not accepted unless he accepts them all.
Their service was to guard the Temple. Among [the Levities], there were gate-keepers who would open the gates of the Temple and close its doors. And there were singers who would accompany the sacrifices with song each day. [The latter concept is derived from the exegesis of Deuteronomy 18:7]: "And he shall serve in the name of God, his Lord, as all of his Levite brethren." Which service involves [invoking] the name of God? I would say: song.
When were songs recited? At the time all the communal burnt offerings, the peace offerings brought on Shavuous, and the wine libations were brought. Song was not recited over the freewill burnt offerings that the community would bring for "the dessert of the altar," nor on the wine libations that are brought independently.
A Levite who is in an acute state of mourning is permitted to perform his service and sing. There should never be less than twelve Levites standing on the duchan each day to recite the songs over the sacrifices and the additional offerings. The songs were song vocally without musical instruments, for the fundamental dimension of the song is vocalization. Others would stand on [the duchan] and play melodies with musical instruments: some of them were Levites and some of them were Israelites of distinguished lineage, fit to marry into the priesthood. For only a person of distinguished lineage was allowed to ascend to the duchan. The people who play musical instruments are not included in the number of the twelve singers [required].
On what instruments would they play? On lyres, flutes, harps, trumpets, and a cymbal. There should not be less than two lyres, nor more than six. There should not be less than two flutes, nor more than twelve. There should not be less than two trumpets, nor more than one hundred and twenty. There should not be more less than nine harps and there is no upper limit. There should only be one cymbal.
On all the days of the festivals and on the Rashei Chadashim, the priests would sound the trumpets while the sacrifice was being offered and the Levites would recite songs, as [Numbers 10:10] states: "On the day of your celebration, on your festivals, and at the beginning of your months, you shall sound the trumpets."
Each trumpet was made from a block of silver. If it was made from scraps of silver, it is acceptable. If it is made from other metals, it is unacceptable.
The flutes on which they would play would have cane reeds, because they produce a sweet sound. The melody would always be played by a single flute, because it produces a pleasant sound.
Twelve days a year, the flute would be sounded before the altar: During the slaughter of the first Paschal sacrifice, and during the second Paschal sacrifice, on the first day of Pesach, on the first day of Shavuot, and on the eight days of Sukkot. [The sounding of] the flute on these occasions supersedes the Sabbath [prohibitions], because it is associated with a sacrifice and the sounding of a flute associated with a sacrifice is an act of Temple service and supersedes the Sabbath prohibitions.
A Levite may not enter the Temple Courtyard to perform his service until he studied for five years beforehand. [This concept is derived as follows. Numbers 8:24] states: "This is [the edict] with regard to the Levites: From the age of 25..." and [ibid. 4:30] states: "From the age of 30...." How can [this apparent contradiction be resolved]? They study for five years and they do not enter the service until they fully mature and attain manhood [as ibid.:19] states: "Each man to his service."
The Torah's statement [Numbers 8:25]: "At the age of 50, he will turn back from the ranks of the workers [of the Sanctuary]," applied only in the era when the Sanctuary was carried from place to place. It is not an [ongoing] mitzvah for future generations. For future generations, a Levite is not disqualified because of age or because of physical blemishes, only due to a change in voice, i.e., if his voice spoils because of his advance age, he is disqualified from serving in the Temple. It appears to me that he is disqualified only from serving as a singer, but he could become one of the doorkeepers.
Samuel the Seer and King David divided the Levites into 24 watches.Each week, a different watch would serve [in the Temple]. The head of the watch would divide all the men of the watch into different "clans." On each day of the week, designated men would serve. The heads of the clans would assign the workers on the day that they were designated to work, [allotting each] one appropriate tasks.
All of the Levites are warned [not to participate in] the service of the altar, as [ibid. 18:3] states: "But to the holy utensils and to the altar they should not draw close so they do not die." [This prohibition implies] that they should not draw close to the service [of the Sanctuary], but they may touch [the sacred utensils].
Just as the Levites were warned not to perform the service of the priests,so too, the priests are warned not to perform the work of the Levites, as [the above verse] states: "Also they, also you [shall not die]." Similarly, the Levites themselves were warned that each one should not perform the task incumbent on a colleague. Thus a singer should not assist a door-keeper, nor a door-keeper a singer, as [ibid. 4:49] states: "Every men, according to his service and his burden."
When Levites perform the service of the priests or one Levi assisted in a task that is not his, they are liable for death at the hand of heaven, for [ibid. 18:3] states: "shall not die." When, by contrast, a priest performs the service of a Levite, he is not liable for death. Instead, he violates merely a negative commandment.
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