Rashi on Shemot 5:4 says:

GO YE UNTO YOUR BURDENS — Go to your work which you have to do at home; but it cannot signify “go to your labours as slaves”, for he was speaking to Moses and Aaron who were of the tribe of Levi, and the work of Egyptian slavery had not been imposed on the tribe of Levi. You may know that this was so, because Moses and Aaron went and came just as they pleased (Exodus Rabbah 5:16).

Why weren't the Levi'im enslaved like the other tribes? Is it that they were already serving as a kind of priestly tribe though this title was moved from the b'chorot to the tribe of Levi only later on in the Torah and it's a case of אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה? If so, a. What duties exactly did they have at the time (with there being no Mishkan)? b. Why should Pharaoh even care that their tribe had a different status among Bnei Yisrael, enough to respect it and not enslave them?

If it's not a case of אין מוקדם ומאוחר, is there a different explanation?


Just as the Egyptians freed their clergy from the taxes that Yoseph set up, so to the Leviim were in effect the clergy of the Bnai Yisrael. As a result, the Egyptians treated them the same way as they treated their own clergy. It was a superstition that those regarded as clergy belonged to the gods and therefore could not be forced into paying a labor tax.

Another reason is that when Pharaoh and the Egyptians initialy tricked the Hebrews into paying the labor tax, which then led to the slavery, the Levites did not go along with this and never started working for the Egyptians. Additionally, when the rest of the Hebrews started spreading out of Goshen and into the rest of Egypt, the Levites stayed in Goshen and continued to be separate.

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  • 2
    it's a good answer, but: a. Are there any sources for this? b. As clergy, what did the Levi'im actually do (considering there wasn't a Mishkan at the time)? – Harel13 Jan 19 at 6:54
  • The Levi'im continued doing whatever they had been doing before the slavery started. – Schmerel Jan 19 at 21:17
  • @Schmerel which is what? What made them clergy in their doing? – Harel13 Jan 20 at 8:57

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