Yesterday, we noted that in the census conducted of each of the tribes of Benei Yisrael at Mount Sinai, God singled out the tribe of Levi by commanding that the census of this tribe include even the infants, from the age of one month (3:15). This is in contrast to the other tribes, whose members were counted only from the age of twenty.
The Midrash (Bamidar Rabba 3:8) raises the question of why the census of the tribe of Levi included even the infants. After all, the uniqueness of the Leviyim lay in the special role they filled in the Mishkan (and, later, in the Beit Ha-mikdash). Quite obviously, these duties could not be filled by infants; the Leviyim did not begin serving until adulthood. Why, then, did God include even the infants in the census?
The Midrash answers: “In order to multiply their reward… For you find that they came to serve [in the Mishkan] only at the age of thirty, so why were they counted from the age of one month – so they could receive reward already from the age of one month.” Counting the Leviyim already from infancy signified the fact that although they began serving in the Mishkan only at the age of thirty, nevertheless, they would receive reward even for the earlier years, already from the youngest age. The Midrash draws proof from the verse in Sefer Shmuel I (7:15) which tells that the prophet Shmuel “judged Israel all the days of his life” – despite the fact that he served as the nation’s leader for only ten years. (As the Midrash explains, Shmuel lived for 52 years, and there were only ten years from the death of Eli, the kohein gadol, and the appointment of King Shaul, the period during which Shmuel led the people.) Nevertheless, Shmuel is credited with governing the nation his entire life, even during the years before he actually assumed the role of leader. Similarly, the Midrash comments, the Leviyim were credited with serving in the Mikdash their entire lives, already from infancy, even though in practice they began only at the age of thirty.
The Midrash here teaches that we are credited not only for our accomplishments per se, but also for the years of preparation and struggle that facilitated those accomplishments. Like the Leviyim, we cannot serve God properly without first going through many years of growth and training. Already from infancy, we learn and develop in preparation for lives of devotion to God. Those years, the long process of growth which prepares us to serve God, are to be viewed as part of our service itself. The Leviyim did not actually begin their service until adulthood, but they were counted already as infants because every step of preparation was laden with inherent value and significance insofar as it facilitated the Levi’s service of God. Similarly, everything we do and experience in life that contributes to our growth, to preparing us to be devoted servants of the Almighty, is immensely valuable. Often, we might look at certain periods of our lives as wasted time, as phases in which we failed to accomplish. The Midrash here teaches us to see the value in the process of growth and preparation. Our “wasted” time, in retrospect, was not actually wasted if it was part of our development, part of our training to use our time and opportunities productively. The Midrash assures us that we will be credited even for the years of our “childhood,” for all the years of growth and progress that contributed to our becoming loyal servants of the Almighty.