Bamidbar 4:3 "...from thirty years old and above even to fifty years old, all who enter the service to do the work in the tabernacle of meeting."

Bamidbar 8:24 "...from twenty-five years old and above one may enter to perform service in the work of the tabernacle of meeting..."

Why the different ages for the Levites in serving in the tabernacle of meeting? Which age did they adhere to: 30 yrs old? 25 yrs old?

  • Note the Septuagint to those verses, specifically 4:3. Commented Jul 23, 2019 at 11:22

2 Answers 2


Chullin 24a (citing Sifrei Beha'alotekha 62) notes this contradiction in starting age and reconciles it by saying that Levites entered training at 25 and began to serve at 30. This restriction applied only to the mishkan, because then the job of being a Levite included constructing and assembling the structure. But in the temple, the Levites' duties aren't so physical; they involve singing and assisting the kohanim. The talmud learns that this applied only in the wilderness from Num 4:47 -- "to do the work of service and the work of bearing burdens".

R. Moshe Shamah (Recalling the Covenant p. 694) adduces textual support for this resolution from the difference in description in the two verses. In (4:3) it describes those from age 30 as those who come to perform the service: כָּל־בָּא֙ לַצָּבָ֔א לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת מְלָאכָ֖ה בְּאֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד. However, in describing age 25 in (8:24), the verse states:יָבוֹא֙ לִצְבֹ֣א צָבָ֔א בַּעֲבֹדַ֖ת אֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד. Here is omits more active term מלאכה with the more generic עבודה, and more significantly replaces the prefix ל (to), as in "those who gather to perform, with the prefix ב (in or around), as in "those who gather around the service", i.e. to learn from it, but not to perform it themselves.


The Ibn Ezra (8:24) reconciles these contradictory verses by proposing that the age of twenty five was appropriate only for the work of the tent (עבודת אוהל) whereas thirty was appropriate for carrying the equipment (עבודת משא). The Ibn Ezra doesn't elaborate on the subject and leaves us wondering as to what constitutes עבודת אוהל?

The interpretation of the Rashbam (ibid) may shed some light on this ambiguity (note that the Rashbam does not address the Ibn Ezra here, but gives his own interpretation, however it is possible that he saw his commentary and was influenced by him). According to him, the age of twenty five was appropriate for guarding the Mishkan (משמרת המשכן) only. When the Levite reached the age of thirty he was eligible for עבודת משא as well.

Alternatively the Ramban explains that a Levite at the age of twenty five was eligible for עבודת משא as well. This is evident from the Parsha (8:24) where עבודת משא is clearly included within the duties of the Levite, thus refuting the interpretation of the Ibn Ezra. Rather the Parsha in Behalotecha (8:24) is teaching us that the Levite is not able to become an overseer (פקיד ונגיד) until he reaches the age of thirty. The reason for this is explained by the Ramban (8:24)

והטעם בזה, כי כל אדם נותן לבו בעשרותיו, כי ישתנו בהן הטבעים וידע בהגיעו לעשרים או לשלשים, כי ידעו בו שכניו וקרוביו ואביו ואמו וילדיו ויודיעוהו, אבל בהגיעו לכ"ה לא ירגישו בו כל כך, ולכן לא צוה למשה שיטרח למנות רק מבן שלשים שהאיש נודע בהן

He goes on to explain that the reason why in the first temple they included Levites that were only twenty years old (1 Divrei hayumim 23:24-28), is because since there was no more carrying to be done as in the times of the Mishkan (only those chores enumerated in 1 Divrei hayumim 23:24-28) even the young Levites (from the age of twenty and on) were eligible for it.


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