This version includes corrections and new materials that do not appear on the printed version
While the biblical story of Abram leaving Babel and becoming Abraham, "father of a multitude of the faithful", is popular, its background is less known. A closer study will help us understand the position of Israel within the Family of Man, and in this context, the meaning of its symbol, the six-pointed Star of David.
Noah set a certain order for Mankind after the Flood, with his three sons Shem, Ham, and Japhet. They are the ancestors of the different nations and tribes, but also represent three basic human aspects; spirit, emotion and intellect.
One of the descendants of Shem (meaning name, spiritual principle) was called 'Eber, עבר, which describes one who lives his life according to the principles of Shem, bearer of the Divine Name. A contemporary of 'Eber, a descendant of Ham (meaning warmth, emotional principle) was called Nimrod, which means "let us revolt". His revolt, appealing to men's egos and to their respective desires to unite, was directed against Shem, the bearer of the Divine Name and ancestor of the priestly tribe among his brethren, and against 'Eber, ancestor of the Hebrews. In the wake of his revolt, Nimrod founded the Kingdom of Babel, the Babylonian name of which, Babel, means God's door. The very name of his kingdom thus proclaimed Nimrod's boast of direct access to God, without Shem or 'Eber, and the qualities they represented. This idea is expressed in Babel's motto: "Come, let us build us a city and a tower whose top (head) will be in heaven, and let us make unto us a name...", thus replacing God's Name by their own, and attempting to usurp His Kingdom.
But such wrong-headed, ego-based doctrines, theologies and ideologies, once established as life principles, seduce their followers into performing actions which are right and just in their own eyes but unright and unjust in God's eyes, leading to a collision with His Laws and with one another, and inevitably then with the people bearing His Name.
Nimrod's attempt to found his own spiritual kingdom caused the splitting up of the world - a fact which 'Eber marked by calling one of his sons Peleg ("For in his days was the earth divided"). This split, however, did not occur only between Shem and 'Eber, on the one side, and Nimrod's followers on the other. The latter were, and still are, split and divided amongst themselves.
We should not think that this division occurred as the result of some cruel curse of an extraterrestrial origin. It is, quite naturally, a direct consequence of putting up gods instead of the One God, of establishing ideals that are either deified natural forces, or simply reflections of their inventors' egos, often in the garb of religions. Since neither of them is an absolute authority, different people express their understanding and opinions about them in different ways, and ultimately go in separate directions, vying, quarreling, confused and confusing others.
Abram recognized the futility of Babel's undertakings. He was the first to answer the Divine call: he left Babel, and the Lord God established the Covenant with him. So begins Israel's history.
In the unfolding of this history, we read in Gen.17:5 that Abram's name was changed into Abraham by inserting the sign ה , heh, in his original name, as mentioned. Likewise Sarai's name was changed into Sarah, by replacing the sign ,י yod, with ,ה heh.
,הheh, stands for the Divine attributes of Grace and Mercy; at the end of a word, it also indicates inclination or direction. Abraham, the key Biblical figure for Mankind after the Flood, is characterized by that sign, and so are Sarah his wife, and Yehudah, the main tribe of the people of Israel.
Right from its start, Israel was called to be ,עם סגולהa peculiar people (Exod.19:5). Merely leaving Babel, or Egypt later on, does not yet form Israel into something particular or peculiar. For instance, Assyria, too, left Babel, but it did not become a peculiar people. In Israel's case, it is the going towards Mount Sinai and into the land of promise which gives this leaving of Babel and of Egypt a positive and unique turn. Without this turn it would not be much different from any other nation.
A crucial expression of this turn we find in the tribe of Levi and what it stands for. To better understand this, let us look into the composition of Israel. As known, Israel is made up of the twelve sons of its Patriarch Jacob (Gen.35:22). The number twelve of these tribes could relate to the twelve signs of the Zodiac and the fullness of the material world it represents. This does not make Israel into something peculiar either. Many other nations relate to this fullness, and even Ishmael is mentioned as being headed by twelve princes (Gen.17:20; 25:16), without becoming a peculiar people. Israel is not meant to subjugate to the power of the Zodiac and the material world it stands for; rather Israel is called to be faithful to the Lord God Creator of all by adhering to the special commandments given through Moses on Mount Sinai (cf. Exod.19:5; Levit.11:43-45; Deut.28:5, and many others).
Moses, as known, came from the very tribe of Levi who was singled out for the priestly service among the people of Israel. While Levi, due to his priestly destination, was exempted from inheriting a particular part of the land, families of this tribe were distributed among the other tribes of Israel to serve there during the time they were not engaged in the temple service.
Exempting Levi from the land allocations, would mean to reduce the number of the land-inheriting tribes from twelve to eleven. This deficiency was balanced by branching the tree of Joseph into two tribes, namely his sons Ephraim and Manasse. By allotting land to them, in accordance with Jacob's special blessing over them, the number twelve remained in force. Consequently, Levi is part of all of them and via them of the land as well, and on the other hand is consecrated fully to its priestly service without being tied to a specific territory.
Levi's significance and his position between the tribes were brought out in a very peculiar way when they were ordered, after entering the country, to single out six of them who had to go up Mount Gerizim to proclaim from there the blessings, while the remaining six had to go up Mount Ebal to proclaim the curses upon those who would transgress the commandments, while the tribe of Levi was positioned in the valley between these two hills. To be more accurate on this latter point, it is not the whole tribe of Levi who occupies the middle field but rather those of that tribe who happened to be on active duty as Cohanim (priests) or Levites.9 Indeed, Levi is also mentioned as one of the tribes who had to go up Mt.Gerizim, while both Ephraim and Manasse came in this instance not as two tribes but as one tribe, Joseph. This is to show us that Levi, although being the priestly tribe, was not neither detached from the land, nor outside the people. He did not inherit a territory similar to the other tribes, rather the Levite families got lands (kind of small holdings) in the territories of the other tribes where they lived, and worked, while not on duty.
What is said here about the tribe of Levi, holds similarly true for the people of Israel in its position as the “Kingdom of Priests” among the nations.
Our hexagram allows, or even calls, for demonstrating this peculiarity in a very beautiful way. We can put the names of the six tribes who were on Mount Gerizim next to the six corners of the hexagram, and the names of the six other tribes into the six ankles, while Levi – those who served - would come into the middle field. This would point out Israel's peculiarity graphically more than anything else:
Summing up Israel's position and task, based upon the Divine teaching, Mal.2:7 says:
"The priest's lips keep knowledge,
and they seek the law at His mouth;
for he is the messenger
of the Lord of hosts."
Without Levi, Israel or any of its tribes would be like any other nation; while Levi without Israel would be like a sect. It is this intrinsic togetherness of Israel's tribes, including Levi, which makes up for her peculiarity.
It is in this peculiarity that Israel serves as the ,ממלכת כהנים kingdom of priests, for the rest of Mankind, irrespective whether in exile or settled in the Land. While in exile, its priestly function and service are partial, and truncated..
Dr. Eder's notes:
The Babylonian word Bab-El comes down in Hebrew to ba-bel, which can either mean "with Bel" (name of the Babylonian deity, Jer.50:2; 51:44), or "with nothing".
Jewish oral tradition says of the citizens of Babel that when building their tower, they didn't care if one of their laborers fell to his death, but if one of the expensive bricks broke, they would put the person responsible to death. This simple story shows that they put material values before the life of human beings.
Entreaty, pushing forward one's own ego, is called idolatry, cf. 1.Sam.15:23.
Assyria left Babel, too. Joining neither Babel, nor Abraham, it looked for a “Third Way”, and build Niniveh, Gen. 10:11. Since there is no third way, ,Assyria became as hostile to Israel as was Babel. “Whosoever is not with us will be against us”, is a true saying, and has been proven throughout the millennia.