In the Torah portion of Vayechi – which closes the
book of Genesis – we read how Jacob blesses his children, the
twelve tribes, in his last days. In these blessings lie many secrets foretelling events to come.
As the verse tells us: And Jacob called to his sons, and said: "Gather
together, that I may tell you what will happen with you in the end of days."
As a blueprint for life, these blessings have much to
As a blueprint for life, these blessings have much to
teach us. Each of the twelve tribes reflects a unique path in life. As the verse
tells us at the conclusion of the blessings: All these are the twelve tribes
of Israel... every one according to his blessing he blessed them. (Gen.
49:28) What is the meaning of the words "every one according to his blessing?"
"Blessing" in Hebrew also means to ‘draw down’ (in Hebrew, ‘hamshocho’, from the
root ‘mavrich’). Every one of the tribes has his particular journey, his
specific energy which he must manifest in this world.
Indeed, our Sages teach that the Re[e]d sea split into
twelve paths, providing a separate path for each of the twelve tribes.
To understand these twelve paths we must study the
different ways that the tribes are described in the Torah. We find three
descriptions for the tribes. First, when they are named by their mothers, (Gen.
29-30; 35:18) each child/tribe is given a name with a particular meaning for a
specific reason. Second, when Jacob blesses them before he passes away. (Gen.
3-28) And finally, when Moses blesses them at the end of the Torah. (Deut.
In addition the tribes are named and specified many
times in the Torah – when they enter Egypt, when they leave Egypt, during their
40 year journey through the Sinai wilderness they travel and camp as tribes,
their Temple dedication offerings are repeated twelve times (though they brought
the same offerings) to emphasize the twelve unique paths.
Here is one of many applications of these twelve
paths, based primarily on Yaakov’s blessings.
Reuben – The First
...harnessed properly, the ‘bechor’/Reuven energy can change worlds...
Simeon – The Aggressor
Levi – The Cleric
Judah – The Leader
Dan – The Judge
Naphtali – The Free Spirit
Gad – The Warrior
Asher – The Prosperous One
Issachar – The Scholar
Zebulun – The Businessperson
Joseph – The Sufferer
Benjamin – The Ravenous Consumer
Reuben – the first-born (‘bechor’) –
represents the powerful energy of everything that comes first. The first fruit,
the first moments of the day, the beginning of every creation – has enormous
amount of energy. "Unstable like water,’ this power can go either way: If
harnessed properly, the ‘bechor’/Reuven energy can change worlds; if
abused it can destroy. Like water, it can be the source of life, but if left
unchanneled, it erodes its environment and can flood its surroundings.
Simeon is aggressive gevura – the
antithesis of Reuven’s chesed/water. The fierce anger and cruel wrath
that can result from unbridled gevura must be eliminated lest it turns
into weapons of violence that consume the person and all those he comes in
contact with. [The lesson of this today is self understood].
Levi is the tribe chosen to serve in the Temple.
"Levi" also means ‘attached’ or ‘joined’. Levi is the personality of dedicating
your life to serving a higher calling. Of freeing yourself from your bounds to
material survival and attaching yourself to Divine service (see Rambam, end of
Hilchot Shemittah v’Yovel).
Judah means acknowledgement (‘hoda'ah,’ as
in ‘modeh ani’). Judah’s name also includes the four letters of the
Divine name Havaya. Judah is the leader; his descendants would be the
kings of Israel, beginning with King David and concluding with Mashiach.
Judah is the path of selflessness (‘bittul’) – the most vital ingredient
in true leadership.
Dan is the path of law and order (‘dan’
means to judge). Objective justice is the heart of any civilization.
Naphtali is the free spirit personality. Like a
‘deer running free’ – breaking out of the status quo – independence is a
necessary component in growth. Yet, this free spiritedness must always take care
to ‘deliver words of beauty.’
Gad is the warrior archetype. Expanding on the
justice of Dan, Gad is ready to fight for his beliefs. The warrior is
necessary to both defend our cherished values and to protect our freedoms.
Asher is both prosperity and pleasure. Asher is
the dimension of blessing beyond the norm – to be given more than what is
necessary for survival. Asher is the personality of not just getting what you
need, but also enjoying it.
Issachar is the scholar. Scholarship provides
wisdom, clarity and direction. It is the foundation of any system. Issachar is
the dedication to immerse in study and education.
Zebulun is the merchant, the businessperson
personality. His role is to enter the marketplace and redeem the Divine sparks
within the material world (the ‘secret treasure hidden in the sand’
(Deuteronomy 33:19)). Zebulun complements Issachar; they forge a partnership:
Zebulun supports the scholar, he funds houses of scholarship, which earns him a
right to partake in the reward of Issachar’s studies.
Joseph is the element of suffering in life.
Joseph is the element of suffering in life. Yet,
he not only survives; he thrives. He achieves greatness through his challenges.
He overcomes all adversaries and becomes a great leader, saving his entire
generation. Despite his corrupt environment, he maintains his spiritual
integrity. The powerful light that emerges from darkness in Joseph divides into
two dimensions – his two sons: Menashe and Ephraim:
Menashe represents the ability to not succumb to
the powers of the Egypt/‘mitzraim -constraints’ that want to make you
forget your spiritual roots. To remain connected regardless of the challenges.
Ephraim takes it even further. It is not enough to
just survive in an alien environment, but to thrive – to ‘be fruitful in the
land of my affliction.’ Ephraim is the power to transform the difficulties into
Benjamin is hungry, hungry for the Divine sparks
in all of existence. So, like a ‘ravenous wolf’ Benjamin recognizes that his
mission is to passionately seek out the Divine energy embedded in matter, devour
it, consume and elevate it.
Twelve tribes. Twelve paths. All necessary to reach
Which personality are you? What part do you need to
May we discover our path and live up to it. And may
that help us reach the time -- at the end of days - when we will gain clarity as
to who belongs to what tribe. (See Rambam, Laws of Kings 12:3) Perhaps the
significance of this revelation is the crystallization that will come in the
time when the 'world will be filled with Divine knowledge as the waters cover