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Parsha Vayakhel

03/08/2018 07:17:10 PM


The dynamic duo who built the Mishkan, Betzalel and Ahaliav, come from two opposite extremes.  Betzalel descends from great lineage, from the tribe of Yehuda and specifically the grandson of Chur, while Ahaliav is from the tribe of Dan, who, in the words of Rashi 35:34, is the “lowest of the tribes.”  Citing the Midrash, Rashi explains that God composed a team from the highest of the high and the lowest of the low to fulfill that which it says in Iyov: “And the nobleman is not recognized ahead of the pauper.”  What exactly is this theme of equality, and how does it relate to the Yehuda-Dan relationship?

We find two other scenarios where Yehdua and Dan connect, as Bereishis Raba 93:7 tells the story of Yehuda emitting a loud cry in Egypt when he opposes Yosef, and the Midrash relates that this cry was so loud that Chushim Ben Dan heard it all the way back in Israel, and he miraculously traveled to Egypt and partnered with Yehuda in opposing Yosef.  A second scenario emerges from Tosafos to Gitin 55b, where Tosafos cites sources that Yehuda was the one who killed Eisav, and Tosafos then questions these sources from Sota 13 that describes Chushim as the hero who chops off Eisav’s head.  To resolve the contradiction, Tosafos suggests that Chushim first hit Eisav but did not kill him, and Yehuda then finished the job by delivering a fatal blow.  


What makes Dan the lowest of the low?  In the Pasuk that describes Amalek’s attack on the Jews, it says that Amalek attacked “all the weaklings who were behind you,” and according to Yalkut Shimoni 1038, this is a reference to the people of Dan, who were expelled from the Divine Clouds because they all worshipped idolatry.”  Similarly, in Shoftim 17, we find the tribe of Dan housing the infamous Pesel Michah and tempting others to sin.  

When the Torah describes the formation of travel in the desert in Parshas Beshaloscha, we find Yehuda at the front and Dan at the back, and Dan is described as “the gatherer for all the camps.”  Rashi cites the Talmud Yersushalmi that says that Dan would pick up whatever was dropped from the other tribes and would return the lost items to their rightful owners, and in this sense, that were truly the gatherer for all camps.  However, many suggest that the Talmud is a metaphoric idea that the tribe of Dan was responsible for picking up any lost souls who “fell between the cracks” during the travel.  As the last tribe to move and the lowest of all tribes, Dan specialized in picking up the pieces from the other tribes, as they would uplift those lost souls and carry them along until they were ready to return to their own tribe.  The depth of this idea is that Dan may be the lowest tribe, but as the weakest link, they also form the bedrock foundation of the Jewish People, and when certain lost souls couldn’t endure the pressures of travel with the other, higher tribes, the tribe of Dan “had their back” by providing a safe haven where these souls could regain their connection to God.  The enemy will always attack the weakest link, the vulnerable tribe outside the protective clouds, and the strength of the collective nation is contingent on Dan’s capacity to be a strong backbone for the people.  In order for the nation to surge forward and confidently move in transit, they have to certain that Dan will be there to pick up the casualties of those who fall behind.  A common idea in the Talmud is that a collective group can be judged by its weakest members, and in that sense, Dan’s status is what defines the Jewish people as a whole. (See Succah 28a, where the Gemara describes Hillel as having many disciples, the lowest of which was R’ Yochanan Ben Zakkai, and then the Gemara proceeds to tell many great things about R’ Yochanan Ben Zakkai.  The level of the lowest reflects on the greatness of the collective group)

The idea of Dan being “out of the clouds” is manifest in the character of Shimshon, a descendant of Dan, whose success came by infiltrating the Philistines from within.  Compared to the snake, Dan members use cunning tactics to deceive the enemy particularly because they seem like sinners who are outside the camp.

It is from this perspective that the greatness of Dan emerges, as they are both the lowest of the Shevatim and the gatherer for all the camps.  Although Yaakov compares Dan to the snake at his deathbed, Moshe Rabeinu calls Dan a lion on his deathbed.  There is a duality to Dan-the cunning snake outside the camp and also the lion leader who encourages the rest of the nation to move forward by having their backs-and this is why Moshe relates them to the lion.  In the Yalkut Shimoni 160, it says that Mashiach’s father will be from Yehuda but his mother will be from Dan, and the source of this point is that both Yehuda and Dan are called lions.  There is an interesting custom of drawing two lions on either side of the Luchos on either the curtain of the Aron Kodesh, and there really is no clear Halachic source for this custom.  Perhaps the idea is that all of Torah is helf between our two lions- our front leader Yehuda and our rear leader Dan- and they equally hold the Jewish nation together.      

Wed, January 27 2021 14 Shevat 5781