Classic Questions

Did the tribe of Levi have to fight? (v. 4)

Rashi: [The words] "all the tribes" come to include the tribe of Levi.

Rambam: Why did the tribe of Levi not merit a portion in the Land of Israel and its spoils, as their brothers did? Because they have been separated out to serve G‑d as His ministers... Therefore, they were also separated from worldly matters. They are not required to fight in war, like other Jewish people, and they do not inherit the Land (Laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee Years 13:12).

The Rebbe's Teachings

The War Against Midian (v. 1ff.)

In contrast to other wars, where the Levites did not fight, Rashi writes (in his commentary on verse 4) that the Levites were required to fight in the war against Midian.

However, this is difficult to understand in light of Rambam's explanation that the Levites were exempt from fighting because "they have been separated out to serve G‑d as His ministers... Therefore, they were also separated from worldly matters." Why was an exception made in this case?

The explanation is that the war against the seven Cana'anite nations was fought in order to conquer and settle their land, which would then lead to a life of plowing and sowing the land. Thus the Levites, who were "separated from worldly matters," did not participate in this war.

However, the war against Midian was not fought in order to conquer territory; rather, it was purely "to carry out G‑d's revenge." Thus, the war did not fall into the category of "worldly matters," but rather, it was solely an act of serving G‑d — fitting indeed for the Levites, who "have been separated out to serve G‑d as His ministers."

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 28, p. 344; vol. 23, p. 210)