Day 055: “My Father Was a Rabbi, and His Father Before Him…” (Numbers 3-4)

“Take a census of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, from thirty years old up to fifty years old, all who can come on duty, to do the work in the tent of meeting. This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tent of meeting: the most holy things.”
‭‭Numbers‬ ‭4:2-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Originally published 2022.

In our hotel here in Jerusalem, there is a convention of rabbis from New York. I had the privilege of sharing an elevator ride with one of them this evening (I know, it sounds like the beginning of a joke: ‘A pastor and a rabbi get on an elevator…”)

The rabbi was kind and gracious, and we wound up having a wonderful conversation about ministry. The challenge of communicating our faith to the next generation. The expectations of “edutainment”— where you have to be part educator, part entertainer if you want to keep their attention. I guess for us preachers it would be evange-tainment.

Then I asked him, “So when did you know you wanted to be a rabbi?”

He looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“You know,” I said. “How old were you when you felt the call?”

“Well, my father was a rabbi. And his father before that. And his father before that. I married the daughter of a rabbi. I don’t know that I answered a call. It’s just who we are in my family.”

It dawned on me as I was reading today’s passage that I was hearing in 2022 what the Lord commanded Moses over four thousand years ago. I didn’t ask the rabbi’s last name, but there are several modern Jewish surnames that have linguistic connections to ancient Levitical names:

  • Cohen: Koath
  • Gershwin: Gershom
  • Meyer: Merari

Our guide told us that if you meet a modern day Cohen, chances are they are either a rabbi, or they were supposed to be.

It’s a different way to look at calling. And, yes, it has some drawbacks. A few days from now in our reading plan, we will meet some Koathites that clearly weren’t happy with their jobs. I’ve sometimes wondered about Levites who didn’t want to be priests. Or Reubenites that did. Could there even be an option?

And for me, I love that I can point to the moment when I knew God was calling me into the ministry. I was in fourth grade. We had career day at our school. I dressed in a three piece, baby blue suit and carried my Bible, because I wanted to be a preacher.

But there’s something beautiful about meeting a man who, pretty much from birth has known what he is going to do. For whom the very idea of “calling” is a little confusing. It’s just who he is. Like his father, and his father’s father, and his father before him.

Oh, and one more beautiful thing about this gathering of rabbis. As I watch them here in the hotel, I see that many of them are here with their sons. Which means that there is another generation coming up after them.

Parents, if you want to know what it takes to lead the next generation to love and serve the Lord, then perhaps we can learn from the Levites: make it so much a part of your family’s identity that your children could not imagine being anything else.

Want to go to Israel with me next year? I am leading my church on a ten day tour, from February 22, 2024 to March 2. We will be flying out of Atlanta. Cost will be around $4000. If you are interested, please message me at jamestn1010@gmail.com.



2 responses to “Day 055: “My Father Was a Rabbi, and His Father Before Him…” (Numbers 3-4)”

  1. […] It reminded me of the conversation I had with a rabbi I shared an elevator with when I was in Israel. When I asked him how old he was when he felt called to be a rabbi, it was almost like he didn’t understand the question. He was a fourth generation rabbi. It was just what his family did. (See Day 055: “My Father Was a Rabbi, and His Father Before Him…” (Numbers 3-4)) […]

  2. […] Sons of Korah.” The Korathites were a branch of the family of Korah, whom we read about on Day 055. Numbers 3 tells us what the duties of the Korathites […]

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