Haftora from Parshas Naso: Dan, Yehuda and Mashiach

 by Harav Avraham Rivlin, Mashgiach, Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh
 Our haftara notes at both its beginning and conclusion that Shimshon was from Shevet Dan: “There was a man from Tzira from a family of Dan (Shoftim 13:2); “And the spirit of Hashem began to beat within him in the camp of Dan” (13:25). The shevet origin is not stressed regarding many other Shoftim,[1] indicating that the connection between Shimshon and his shevet is important. The fruit reflects the tree on which it grew; Shimshon’s tests somehow reflect the essence of Shevet Dan.
                Chazal say some rather uncomplimentary things about Shevet Dan: “There is no shevet as great asShevet Yehuda, and none as lowly as Shevet Dan.”[2] In their interpretation of the pasuk, “And they trailed the weak ones behind you” (Devarim 25:18), Chazal explain: “[This refers to] Shevet Dan, who were expelled from the cloud because they were all idol worshipers.”[3] Rav Dessler explained, “The fact that the cloud had expelled them was not obvious from the outside, but rather within their hearts; for th ey lacked the sense of distinction from the ways of the nations, the ways of the material world.”[4] The Midrash further explains: “‘Lest there is among you a man…or family or shevet[5] whose heart turns today away from Hashem our God…to go and serve the gods of the nations’ (Devarim 29:17) – this refers to Shevet Dan, in which the idol of Micha stood.”[6]
                The fact that Shevet Dan travelled at the back of the camp was interpreted both to its credit and against it. In the same spirit as the quotes cited above, the Ba’al Ha-Turim writes on the pasuk, “They shall travel last (le-achrona)” (Bamidbar 2:31): “The word le-achrona appears twice [in Tanach] – “They shall travel le-achrona” and “There will be no remembrance of them, though they be le-achrona” (Kohelet 1:11). For Amalek cut off the place of their milah due to the sin of Micha’s idol that was among them.”[7]
                Rashi, on the other hand, interprets the place of Shevet Dan’s camp as a credit to them: “The Talmud Yerushalmi teaches that because Shevet Dan was very large, they would travel last, and if anyone lost an object, the member of this shevet would return it to him.”[8] Chazal further interpret: “‘The children of Dan – Chushim’ – They were industrious and sharp, as they were involved in digging up (chorsha) of nests.”[9] The Targum Yonatan adds, “And there is no end to their number”[10] – they were chosen to be the “me’asef le-chol ha-machanot” because of their large size.
                The Chasidic literature explains that the “lost objects” that Shevet Dan would return were not material things. It is related in the name of Rav Nachman of Breslov:
What were these lost objects? These were the lost and souls who no one cares about, as the pasuk says, “My nation was like lost sheep” (Yirmiyahu 50:6) and “O, shepherds of Israel… the wandering you have not returned and the lost you have not sought… and they wander without a shepherd” (Yechezkel 34:2-5). But Shevet Dan would take care of them and return them to the good… And behold, this is the way of the world – those who occupy themselves with connecting to evildoers in the attempt to return them to the right path are often suspected themselves. Abominations are attributed to them and they are ostracized by the nation.”[11]
                Rav Dessler writes similarly about Shevet Dan:
They are called the “me’asef le-chol ha-machanot” because they would occupied themselves with returning those who had been expelled back into the protection of the cloud, bringing them back to the high level of holiness… This reveals a deep insight. It was precisely because Shevet Dan possessed some small element of downfall (and is thus termed “the lowliest of shevatim”) that it was able to save those expelled by the cloud. As is well-known, in order for the tzaddik to raise the impure souls from their casks, he must lower himself to them, but this entails great danger to one who is not entirely pure. The fact that Ha-Kadosh Baruch Hu gave this task to Shevet Dan reveals their greatness.[12]
                On this basis, we can understand the statements of Chazal that elaborate on Shimshon’s holiness:
“Dan will judge his nation like one (ke-echad) of the tribes of Yisrael” (Bereishit 49:16) – this refers to Shimshon ben Manoach, who was comparable to the Unique One. Just as the Unique One requires no assistance, so Shimshon ben Manoach required no assistance… For Yaakov Avinu saw him and assumed that he was Mashiach. When he saw that he died, he declared, “He also died! For your salvation I hope,Hashem.”[13]
Rav Dessler adds:
Shimshon repaired the sin of the snake, as Yaakov said in his blessing: “Dan is like a snake on the path.”… He is like a holy snake, who will change even the evil into good… Due to his great holiness, Shimshon was able to leave the element of “the cloud” – protection – and descend to the weak ones and the places of impurity without stumbling…
                This further explains the connection of Shimshon and Shevet Dan to Shevet Yehuda. Despite the difference between the two Shevatim, which was noted above, Chazal stress that the two are joined together in the building of the Mishkan and Mikdash.[14] Moreover,
“Dan will judge his nation like one of the tribes of Yisrael” – like the most special tribe, Yehuda. “From the family of Dan” – it does not say “from the tribe.” This teaches that Manoach’s father was from Dan, but his mother was from Yehuda. Similarly, Manoach was from Dan, but his wife was from Yehuda.[15]
                Shimshon was capable, apparently, of descending to the depths, just as Mashiach descends to raise up the sparks of holiness. It was only when Shimshon became haughty as a result of his greatness that he fell. “Shimshon was punished through what he became arrogant about. He said, ‘Take her for me, for she is proper in my eyes’ – they therefore gauged out his eyes.”[16] Involvement in impurity requires such a high degree of holiness and complete lack of personal identification that the role was too difficult even for Shimshon. “The pasuksays, ‘And Shimshon went down to Timna’ and it says [regarding Yehuda], ‘Behold, your father-in-law is going up to Timna.’ Rabbi Elazar said: By Shimshon, who became haughty there, it uses the language of descent. By Yehuda, who was raised there, it uses the language of ascent.”[17]
                On the path to Mashiach, Yehuda ascends and Shimshon descends.
[1] See, for example, Shamgar ben Anat (3:31), Devora (4:4), and Yiftach (11:1).
[2] Shemot Rabbah 31:6.
[3] Yalkut Shimoni 938.
[4] Michtav Mei-Eliyahu, vol. 2, p. 267. Further quotes regarding the low stature of Shevet Dan, and particularly its attachment to idolatry, can be found there and in the book of Rav Shlomo Fisher, shlitaBeit Yishai, vol. 1, p. 243.
[5] The only shevet that contained a single family was Shevet Dan – “And the sons of Dan – Chushim” (Bereishit 46:23). This is why our haftara writes that Manoach was “from the family of Dan,” and not “from Shevet Dan.” Similarly, the midrash interprets the Torah’s reference to “a family or shevet” as implying Shevet Dan.
[6] SifriDevarim 29:17.
[7] The Ba’al Ha-Turim relates to an idea quoted in the name of the Ari: “‘They trailed the weak ones (ha-necheshalim) behind you’ – the letters of ha-necheshalim spell ‘nachash-mila.’ For Dan was compared to a snake, and they are they were the ones who were trailed (va-yezanev becha) – they were hit by the ‘tail,’ as Amalek cut off their mila.” (See Beit Yishai, ibid.) The Ba’al Ha-Turim writes a similar idea on the pasuk, “The flag of the camp of Dan travelled as the gatherer (me’asef)of all of the camps” (Bamidbar10:25) – “The word me’asef appears three times [in Tanach] – here; ‘And no one brought them home (me’asef otam)’ in the context of the story of the Pilegesh ba-Giva; ‘Like the bundle that falls behind the harvester and no one gathers it in (ve-ein me’asef),’ referring to Shevet Dan because the idol of Micha was among them. As a result, no one gathered them in, for the cloud expelled them and Amalek killed them; they fell like the bundles behind the harvester, and no one gathered them in.”
[8] Rashi, Bamidbar 10:25. Shevet Dan was the second largest shevet after Yehuda, numbering 62,700. The camp of Dan was similarly the second largest. Given that the entire shevet was made up of only one family (Chushim), it was the largest family in the entire nation.
[9] Bava Batra 143b.
[10] Targum Yonatan, Bereishit 46:23.
[11] Beit Yishai, vol. 1, p. 244.
[12] Michtav Mei-Eliyahu, vol. 2, pp. 268-9.
[13] Bereishit Rabbah 98:18-19.
[14] The Mishkan was built by Betzalel, of Yehuda, and Ohaliav, of Dan. See Rashi, Shemot 35:34: “Ohaliav was from Shevet Dan, one of the lowliest tribes of the sons of the maidservants, and he was placed on equal footing with Betzalel, who was from the one of the greatest tribes.” The Mikdash was built by Shlomo, of Shevet Yehuda, and “Chiram, the son of a woman of Dan” (Divrei Ha-Yamim II 2:13).
[15] Bamidbar Rabba 10:5. Rav Dessler emphasizes: “He was thus ¾ from Yehuda, the tribe of Mashiach.”
[16] TanchumaBeshalach 12.
[17] Sota 10a.

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

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