Yesterday, we noted the Torah’s formulation in Parashat Korach in presenting the obligation of terumat ma’aser, which requires a Levi to donate to a kohen one-tenth of the produce he receives as tithes from Benei Yisrael. God told Moshe to tell the Leviyim, “Your donation shall be considered like grain from the granary and like ripe produce from the winery” (18:27). Meaning, when they donate their terumat ma’aser to a kohen, this donation will be no different from the teruma which the rest of the nation gives to a kohen from their produce. As we saw, this comparison between a Levi’s terumat ma’aser and other people’s teruma to a kohen has been understood as establishing a degree of halakhic parity between the two donations, the precise details of which are subject to some debate.
Rav Tzvi Hersh of Ziditchov offers a creative reading of this verse, suggesting that it alludes to the perspective people of stature should have on their positions of distinction. The word “terumatkhem” (“your donation”), the Rebbe of Ziditchov commented, may be read to mean, “your elevation,” a distinguished position to which a person has risen. The Torah here urges such people to view their positions of honor as no different than the position of “honor” conferred upon a portion of produce designated as teruma. When a farmer consecrates a percentage of his produce as teruma, that portion quite obviously did not do anything to deserve its hallowed status. Similarly, the Rebbe of Ziditchov explained, if a person has succeeded in achieving a status of distinction, he should not gloat or pride himself over his accomplishment. He should view himself as a portion of teruma that was chosen by Providence for reasons neither he nor anyone can know to be special and sacred.
The laws of the mandatory gifts to the kohanim and Leviyim were presented in the aftermath of Korach’s uprising, when the special status of the kohanim and Leviyim was challenged. These laws, as Rashi (18:8) comments, were communicated at this point in order to confirm the designation of the tribe of Levi as servants in the Mishkan, with all the responsibilities and privileges this entailed, including the support of the rest of the nation through various mandatory gifts. The Rebbe of Ziditchov reminds us that just as commoners must not envy or resent people of stature, the people of stature must not look down upon the commoners. As important as it is to respect those whom God had chosen for special stature of greatness, it is equally important for those with special stature to respect the people under their charge. All individuals must recognize and embrace their position and role, which means that we must neither envy those with roles which seem more impressive, nor look condescendingly upon those whose roles seem less impressive. We are all equally beloved children of the Almighty, and we must therefore neither envy those who seem above us nor disrespect those who seem beneath us.