“Bring the Tribe of Levi near and present them before Aaron the Priest that they may serve him”—Numbers 3:6.

This week’s portion, the first in the Book of Numbers, describes the appointment of the Levite tribe as assistants to Aaron the High Priest and his descendents.

There is a tradition that the verse (Psalms 92:13), “A righteous person will give fruit like a date-palm; he will grow tall like a cedar in Lebanon,” alludes to the role of the Levites as attendants to the priests.

A righteous individual may be compared to one of two kinds of trees—the date palm or the cedar. The date palm, as the verse attests, “gives fruit.” It does not, however, grow so tall. The cedar, on the other hand, “grows tall” but does not give fruit.

A righteous individual may be compared to one of two kinds of trees—the date palm or the cedarA righteous person who resembles a cedar is one whose attention to his spiritual growth lifts him to great heights. Yet, because he is primarily focused on his own improvement, he does not “give fruit.” His spiritual accomplishments are impressive but do not translate into a direct benefit for others.

The second type of righteous person is like the date palm. This is the person who takes time that otherwise could have been spent on his own development and uses it to attend his fellow. Having diverted his attention from his personal growth, he does not grow as tall, but he – like the date palm which bears delicious and nourishing fruit – provides life, energy and sustenance to others.

The character of the Levites whose task it was to assist others is like that of the date palm. Rather than concentrating solely on their own spiritual attainments, they were entrusted with the holy mission of being of service to those who performed the holy rites in the Temple. Instead of focusing exclusively on their own spiritual attainments, they made themselves of use to others.

For us alcoholics, this is the spiritual path that grants us day-by-day assurance of our sobriety. Sometimes an alcoholic may think that he might accomplish more by spending less time and energy working with others and concentrating instead on more “lofty” affairs such as prayer and meditation. It sounds nice in theory, but in practice we find that the Twelfth Step’s call for service – that we “carry this message to other alcoholics” – is not just a way of paying back to the program, it is crucial to our own sobriety.

We don’t need to be High Priests performing the holy rites in the Temple. We are grateful to act as the Levites, endowed with the sacred privilege of attending to and serving others—always giving fruit, even at the expense of not growing quite as tall.