M'oray Ha'Aish Parshat Vayechi: Salvation
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Vayechi(Genesis 47:28-50:26)

Salvation

As Yaakov's last days approach,1 feelings of his own mortality become acute. He knows that he will soon depart from this world, and he has an overwhelming desire to impart a message to his children - a message of salvation. He gathers them to share with them a vision of what will transpire at the end of days.

And Yaakov called to his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days. (Bereishit 49:1)

Then, instead of a clear picture of nirvana or apocalypse, we receive a series of messages, blessings, and rebukes. In the middle of these blessings Yaakov says:

I have waited for your salvation, O Lord. (Bereishit 49:18)

It is unclear what these words mean, and their placement is confusing. Had these words been said in the beginning of the blessings, the reader would have understood them as an expression of missed opportunity: Yaakov takes stock of his life as he prepares his parting words to his sons, and he quite naturally reflects upon what might have been. He utters a prayer for redemption as he stands poised to blessing his sons. But these words are not in the preamble to the blessings. Alternatively, we might expect these words to have been said at the end, after Yaakov concluded his message to each of the sons. But they are not found at the end. They are found between the blessings of Dan and Gad, making it unclear if this is connected to Dan, or an introduction to the blessing of Gad, or perhaps blurted out in the middle, disconnected from the other blessings.2

* * *

THE BLESSING FOR DAN

Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that bites the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward. I have waited for your salvation, O Lord. (Bereishit 49:16-18)

The seventh Tribe mentioned in the blessings is Dan. Dan is said to be a judge, which is not surprising; the very name Dan evokes Din - Judgment. It is the continuation of the verse which is problematic, "as one of the tribes of Israel". Why be compared to one of the tribes? Why, indeed, is Dan like a tribe of Israel? Dan is one of the tribes! And which tribe is he like? What follows is even more disturbing: Dan is compared to a serpent, biting the heels of the horse - causing the rider to tumble to the ground. Why the comparison to serpents? Serpents, especially venomous ones, have not enjoyed a wonderful reputation ever since the Garden of Eden. But the combination - judge and serpent- is particularly perplexing. And now that we have been thoroughly confused, Yaakov speaks that three - word verse (in Hebrew): "I have waited for your salvation, O Lord."

Rashi3 understands that the "judgment" of Dan is connected to vengeance, the vengeance which would be taken from the Philistines. The specific reference is to a Judge who will be born to the tribe of Dan: Samson (Shimshon). In Rashi's words, Shimshon will be like one of the "special" tribes: Yehuda, specifically David. Although Shimshon reminds us more of Goliath than of David, parallels between David and Shimshon may be found, most notably both were warriors and both were victorious over the Philistines.

Rashi stresses that Yaakov's blessing of Dan, and his allusion to Shimshon, is a prophecy. Indeed, the language and imagery of these verses sound as if Yaakov has had a vision. He sees a rider, a horse, and a serpent from below.

In this vision, Yaakov - who can no longer see - prophesizes, and it is the image of Shimshon, who in the end of his life also lost his sight, that comes to him. Blinded, humiliated, Shimshon implores God for one more burst of strength so that he can take down the "rider and horse", or the Philistines and their cathedral.4

And Shimshon called to the Lord, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray you, and strengthen me, I pray you, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes. And Shimshon took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and he supported himself on them, on one with his right hand, and on the other with his left. And Shimshon said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people who were in there. So the dead whom he slew at his death were more than those whom he slew in his life. (Shoftim 16:28-30)

According to Rashi this very scene is what Yaakov sees in his vision. He hears Shimshon's prayer to God; "O Lord God, remember me, I pray you, and strengthen me, I pray you, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes." Yaakov's enigmatic words as he blesses Dan, Shimshon's forebear, "I have waited for your salvation, O Lord," are parallel to Shimshon's prayer.

While the nature of visions is often messages communicated in symbolic fashion, we would be more comfortable with Rashi's interpretation had Shimshon uttered the identical words found in the closing line of the blessing of Dan.

* * *

THE SERPENT

The Ramban5 agrees that Yaakov's vision is about Shimshon: Other than Shimshon, there never was a Judge who fell into the hands of the enemy. For this reason, Shimshon is compared to a serpent. According to this approach, Shimshon, who had occupied an exalted position, fell drastically: he fell from his position, he fell to the ground and he fell into the hands of the enemy.

According to the Ramban, Yaakov himself, seeing the failed mission of Shimshon, calls out to God and begs for salvation.6

Taking the long view, the ascendency of Shimshon does not bring authentic salvation. Shimshon was a failed leader, a leader who despite enormous capabilities did not live up to his potential. For the ultimate redeemer, the Jewish people would have to wait. Shimshon from the tribe of Dan is like one of the great tribes Yehuda - he is like David, who will eventually have the real Messiah come from his lineage, but Shimshon fails - he proves to be a serpent and not Messiah.7

It is noteworthy that according to both Rashi and Ramban, Shimshon is described as a serpent (in Hebrew, spelled Nun Het Shin - NACHASH). The Ariza"l teaches that Shimshon, who could have been a Messiah, instead became a Nachash. As in many of the teachings of the Ariza"l, it is worth noting that the two words have the same numerical value (358).8

The serpent loses his legs when he seduces Eve to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. According to the Zohar this tree was a vine, and the fruit, grapes.9 That is the kind of drink which causes confusion between good and evil. According to Rabbinic teachings, the serpent was motivated by lust for a woman - Eve: a woman he could not have.10 When Shimshon loses his strength, the cause was a foreign woman,11 a woman who was off limits. Shimshon, as we know, was a Nazarite: He was forbidden to drink wine his entire life, his hair was to grow long, he was to exist in a natural state - which perhaps we can now identify as an "Eden existence". Transgressions against these personal restrictions - the foreign woman, drinking wine and cutting his hair - are the cause of his destruction, and turn him from a savior to serpent.

In Yaakov's vision, he sees the Nachash biting the heel of the horse, a symbol of pride and power. The horse falls over, crushing and killing the rider - but also killing the serpent - Shimshon.12

Rabeynu Bechaya13 says that Yaakov utters these enigmatic words of awaiting redemption when he feels the frustration of seeing Dan's failure. Yaakov looks ahead, to another tribe, for this salvation. The next tribe Yaakov blesses is Gad; redemption will come through Gad. Had Yaakov maintained the age-order of the brothers, he should have blessed Naftali after Dan, rather than Gad. Therefore, we may infer that Gad somehow is meant to follow Dan in terms of the essence of the prophecy.14

Yaakov's blessing for Gad is short but contains at least one word which links it back to Dan: heel (akev):

Gad, a troop shall overcome him; but he shall overcome at the last (literally heel). (Bereishit 49:19)

The word akev is found in Yaakov's blessing to Dan, as the heel of the horse that the serpent attacks, and in the blessing of Gad, referring to the eventual victory. The word akev is relatively unusual in the Torah. The first use of this word is back in the Garden of Eden, and the context is the punishment of the Serpent.

And the Lord God said to the serpent ... he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. (Bereishit 3:14)

The "original Serpent" is associated with the heel; Dan is compared to the serpent attacking the heel of the Horse. On the other hand, Gad, next in line for a blessing, is also associated with a heel.

* * *

ELIYAHU

Dan, through Shimshon, is like David the Redeemer. Gad, in turn, is like Dan. Whereas Dan, (Shimshon) will fail,15 Gad will eventually bring about Redemption. This seems quite confusing, for we know that redemption comes from Yehudah. How, in fact, is Gad connected to the Messianic process?

The Midrash states that Eliyahu, the precursor of the Mashiach, was from the Tribe of Gad.

AND LEAH SAID: FORTUNE IS COME - BA GAD (ib. 11): the fortune of the house has come; the fortune of the world has come; he [namely, Eliyahu] has come who will overthrow (gadad) the foundations of the heathen.16 (Midrash Rabbah - Bereishit 71:9)

The name of Eliyahu's father is never mentioned in the text; this lacuna makes identification of his tribe quite challenging.17 We do know that he is from Gilad (which geographically would make him "part" of Gad).

Another Midrashic comment on these verses sheds more light:

When Yaakov saw him [Shimshon] he exclaimed, 'I [still] WAIT FOR THY SALVATION, O LORD: not he will bring the redemption, but [one descended] from Gad, as it says, GAD, A TROOP SHALL TROOP UPON HIM, BUT HE SHALL TROOP UPON THEIR HEEL (49:18), which alludes to him who will come at the end [lit. 'heel']: Behold, I will send you Eliyahu the Prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord (Mal. 3:23). He was of the Tribe of Gad, for that reason it says, BUT HE SHALL TROOP UPON THEIR HEEL. (Midrash Rabbah - Genesis 99:10)

Not Mashiach, rather the precursor of Mashiach will come from Gad: Eliyahu, the herald of Mashiach.

Gad and Dan are linked in their messianic involvement. Yaakov, who is searching for a vision of Mashiach, sees someone with potential of being Mashiach, only to be disappointed: Simshon will be a failed (not false) Mashiach. Then the spotlight turns to Gad, who will give rise to Eliyahu the herald of Mashiach.

This connection may shed light on the blessings given by Moshe to these two tribes. Once again they are mentioned together; once again Naftali is skipped, but this time the order is inverted, and Gad precedes Dan:

And of Gad he said, Blessed be he who enlarges Gad; he lives as a lion, and tears the arm with the crown of the head. And he provided the first part for himself, because there, in a portion of the lawgiver, was he seated; and he came with the heads of the people, he executed the justice of the Lord, and his judgments with Israel. And of Dan he said, Dan is a lion's cub; he shall leap from Bashan. (Devarim 33:20-22)

Here both Gad and Dan are referred to as lions, king of the beasts. Significantly, Yehuda18 is referred to as a lion by Yaakov: Royalty will come from Yehuda, the scepter will depart from Yehuda. If that is they case, why does Moshe refer to Gad and Dan as lions, indicating royalty?

The Midrash teaches that the blessings given to each tribe were actually given to the collective Jewish people, and even though a preponderance of leadership is found in Yehuda some was spread among the other tribes.

ALL THESE ARE THE TWELVE TRIBES OF ISRAEL, etc. (Bereishit 49:28). AND HE BLESSED THEM is already written; why add, EVERYONE ACCORDING TO HIS BLESSING HE BLESSED THEM? But because he had blessed them, comparing Judah to a lion, Dan to a serpent, Naphtali to a hind, and Benjamin to a wolf; he subsequently included them altogether as one, declaring them all to be lions and serpents. The proof lies in this: Dan shall be a serpent (ib. 17); yet he [Moshe] calls him a lion: Dan is a lions whelp This is in confirmation of the verse, "Thou art all fair, my love, and there is no spot in thee" (Shir Hashirim 4:7, Devarim 33:22). (Midrash Rabbah - Bereishit 99:4)

According to this teaching there is something fluid, almost interchangeable, about the various parts that make up the Twelve Tribes. Therefore Moshe can see a lion in both Gad and Dan - even though primarily the lion is associated with Yehuda.

We know that Mashiach comes from the Tribe of Yehuda; this is one of the messages that Yaakov shares with Yehuda in this week's parsha:

Yehuda, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons shall bow down before thee. Yehuda is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, you will rise. He stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as a lioness; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Yehuda, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until Shiloh arrives; and unto him shall the obedience of the peoples be. (Bereishit 49:8-10)

Rashi, based on Targum Unkolus, explains the phrase "until Shiloh arrives" as, "until the arrival of the Mashiach". The scepter is in the domain of Yehuda forever. Mashiach will come from Yehuda. But a potential for salvation existed in Dan, and the precursor is in Gad. In his prophesy, Moshe sees this potential, and refers to both Gad and Dan as lions.

The connection of Gad to the Mashiach was manifest in the figure of Eliyahu, but where do we find an active role for Dan? Was there an historical figure from the Tribe of Dan who played a role in the redemptive process? When the Mishkan was built, the major role was that of the chief architect, Bezalel from the tribe of Yehuda. There was, however, a major auxiliary role performed by someone else; Oholiav, the son of Ahisamach, from the Tribe of Dan.

And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all kinds of workmanship. And I, behold, I have given with him Oholiav, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all who are wise-hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded you. (Shmot 31:1-6)

The creation of the Mishkan, the seat of God, is a Yehuda/Dan production. The Pesikta teaches that the same two tribes were responsible for the building of the First Temple.19

One of the roles of the Mashiach is the building of the Temple. We can now understand that although Dan, via Shimshon, failed to BE the Mashiach, Dan succeeded in a supporting role in building the Mishkan and the First Temple. Gad, too, succeeds in a supporting role, in the person of Eliyahu.

When Yaakov blesses his sons, the tribes of Gad and Dan are not the only ones listed out of order. The first four tribes are blessed in the order of their birth: Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehudah. The next son born is Yissachar, but when Yaakov blesses them. Yissachar and Zevulun are inverted. These two tribes are generally found in close proximity to Yehuda, as in the encampment in the desert where these tribes flank Yehuda on each side.

According to the Midrash, the Tribes of Yissachar and Zevulun had an agreement between them: Zevulin embarked on marine expeditions, while Yissachar remained behind and was involved in spiritual quests.20 Yissachar represents Torah, Zevulun represents business. It is interesting that the sequence is "business before Torah." Yehuda, who represents leadership, kingship, the Mashiach, will need to be flanked by business leaders and Torah sages. Their support is essential for success. Yaakov inverts the order and places the business leaders before the Sages.

Ultimately, Yaakov was prophesying about the end of days, the Mashiach. The shifts in the sequence of the tribes surround Yehuda and the concept of Mashiach, the major focus of the End of Days.

Although Yaakov does not tell us clearly what will take place, it is clear that Yaakov had a detailed vision of the elements of the End of Days. From our perspective some 4000 years later, we can easily appreciate why the message was cloudy: Had the Jewish People known that salvation was so far away, the frustration and despair could have been devastating.

Yehuda, the eventual Mashiach via the line of David, will come. He will be preceded by Eliyahu from the tribe of Gad. Yehuda will be flanked by the scrupulously honest businesspeople represented by Zevulun. He will be empowered by men and women of Torah represented by Yissachar. He will be aided in the building of the Beit Hamikdash by spiritual descendents of Dan. And as we wait for that great day, we can only echo those words, be they the words of Yaakov, Dan, Shimshon or Gad:

I have waited for your salvation, O Lord!


NOTES

1. A version of this essay with Hebrew sources and footnotes can be found at http://arikahn.blogspot.com/.

2. This suggestion is cited and rejected in the Ktav V'kabalah, Bereishit 49:18.

3. Commentary of Rashi to Bereishit 49:16.

4. See Midrash Rabbah 98:14: DAN SHALL BE A SERPENT IN THE WAY (49:17). As the serpent is found among women, so was Shimshon the son of Manoah found among women. As a serpent is bound by an oath, so was Shimshon the son of Manoah bound by an oath: 'And Shimshon said unto them: Swear unto me (Judg. 15:12).' Just as all the serpent's strength resides in his head, so it was with Shimshon: If I be shaven, then my strength will go from me (ib. 16:17). As a serpent's eyelid quivers after death, so [we read of Shimshon], So the dead that he slew at his death were more than they that he slew in his life (ib. 30).THAT BITES THE HORSE'S HEELS - Call for Shimshon, that he may make us sport (ib. 25).1 R. Levi said: It is written, And there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women (ib. 27). These were the number on the edge of the roof, but no one knows how many were behind them, yet you read, Then his brethren and all the house of his father came down, and took him, and brought him up, and buried him... in the burying place of Manoah his father (ib. 31)! This was because our ancestor Yaakov prayed in the matter, so THAT HIS RIDER FALLETH BACKWARD - let all return back to their place.

5. Ramban Bereishit 49:18.

6. Rabbenu Bachya agrees with the Ramban that Shimshon is a failed leader, and therefore may be referred to us a serpent, yet he allows for Rashi's interpretation - that it may have been Yaakov putting words into Shimshon's mouth and not Yaakov praying upon seeing the failed Shimshon.

7. The Midrash says that when Yaakov saw Shimshon, he thought he was the Messiah. See Midrash Rabbah 98:14: Our ancestor Jacob saw him (Shimshon) and thought that he was the Messiah. But when he saw him dead he exclaimed, 'He too is dead! Then I wait for Thy salvation, O God ' (Gen.49:18).

8. See Sefer Haliqutim Book of Judges chapter 5.

9. See Zohar Bereshit 36a: "According to a tradition, Eve pressed grapes and gave to Adam, and in this way brought death into the world."

10. See Rashi Bereishit 3:1.

11. One wonders if, aside from an etymological similarity, Delilah is "related" to Lilith.

12. For this description spelled out fully see commentary of the Alshech, Torat Moshe 49:17.

13. Rabbenu Bachya Bereishit 49:19.

14. It is noteworthy that this is not the only time in this chapter that the blessing of the tribes is out of age order.

15. There is another person who is son of Dan who may be related to topic: Chushim. He kills Esav at Yaakov's funeral. It is interesting that while Shimshon has gone blind yet can still hear, Chushim can see but cannot hear. Significantly, "Chushim" (in Hebrew) is an anagram of Mashiach.

16. Despite the unequivocal statement of Eliyahu's linege, the Midrash does proceed to debate the subject: The Rabbis debated: To which tribe did Elijah belong? R. Leazar said: To Benjamin, for it is written, And Jaareshiah, and Elijah, and Zichri, were the sons of Jerobam... All these were the sons of Benjamin (I Chron. 8:27,40). R. Nehorai said: To Gad, for it says, And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said (I Kings 17:1). Said R. Philippi to R. Nehorai: What reason have you for saying so? Because it is written, And their [sc. the Gaddites'] border was Jazer, and all the cities of Gilead (Josh. 13:25), he replied. How does R. Eleazar interpret the verse quoted by R. Nehorai? 'Of the inhabitants of Gilead' means, of those who sat in the Hall of Hewn Stones. And how does R. Nehorai interpret the verse quoted by R. Eleazar, 'And Jaareshiah and Elijah'? These names are meant for allegorical interpretation: when He [God] would shake (mar'ish) the world [in His wrath], Elijah recalls (mazkir) the merit of the ancestors, whereupon, lo, 'The sons of Jerobam,' which means, God is filled with compassion (rahamim) for His world. On one occasion our Rabbis were debating about him [Elijah], some maintaining that he belonged to the tribe of Gad, others, to the tribe of Benjamin. Whereupon he came and stood before them and said, 'Sirs, why do you debate about me? I am a descendant of Rachel.' Midrash Rabbah - Genesis 71:9.

17. See Rabbi Moshe Cordovero Pardes Rimonim Shaar 24, Chapter 14, who cites a mystical teaching in the name of Rabbi Moshe D'Leon that Eliyahu's father is never mentioned because Eliyahu was not born, he was an angel and hence returns to heaven when his mission is complete.

18. Bereishit 49:8-10.

19. Pesikta Rabati parsha 5.

20. See Rashi 49:13, see Midrash Rabba Bamidbar 13:16.


Published: January 3, 2009

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