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The role of the Levites in Jewish life was a very important one, even though it was not always completely delineated and defined. The essential task of the Levites was to serve as the caretakers in charge of the maintenance of the holy Temple. The Talmud called them "the gatekeepers.” They were, so to speak, the maintenance staff of the Temple, assisting the priests in their tasks, though not actually performing the rituals of sacrifice and incense that made up the Temple service.
The Levites were also in charge of the melodious atmosphere that was present in the Temple on a daily basis. There was a presentation of instrumental and choir music in the Temple each day – including the Sabbath and the holidays – that attracted Jewish and non-Jewish visitors from near and far. This musical presentation was part of the glory of the Temple service and highlighted the emotional constituent of the service itself.
The Psalms of David and psalms authored by others constituted the basic theme of the musical presentation of the Levites and are remembered today in our daily morning prayers, sans musical instruments. The importance of melody to enhance the emotions and devotion of meaningful prayer cannot be overemphasized.
There are those who claim that there is still large vestiges of the Levites’ melodies and musical compositions present in some of our traditional liturgical melodies today. As you can well imagine, this is a very difficult thing to assess accurately. But the mere fact that such an opinion can be advanced and accepted by many is sufficient to indicate to us the power of the songs and melodies of the Levites.
The individual Levite was assigned to duties in the Temple for only a few weeks out of the year. The Levites were divided into 24 families, as were the Priests themselves, and each family worked in the Temple two or three weeks per year, plus duties on the holidays. This left them a lot of free time in their lives and since Jewish tradition abhors sloth and wasted time, the Levites were assigned the task of being the teachers – the educational guides of the young and old of the Jewish people.
In a way one can say that this was an even more vital task than serving as the maintenance and musical component of the Temple staff. The Levites have jealously guarded their pedigree throughout the long Jewish exiles after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Some of the greatest scholars and teachers of Israel over those many centuries always identified themselves as being descendants from the tribe of Levi.
Thus, the Levites were always granted special honors in the synagogue and in being called up to readings from the Torah. The Levites and the Priests remain our special link to the Temples in Jerusalem, keeping alive the memory and strengthening our belief and resolve in their and our future in the restoration of the glory and holiness of Israel and Jerusalem.
Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Berel Wein 

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