Chukkat: Being human

The Israelites arrived in a body at the wilderness of Zin on the first new moon, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there. The community was without water, and they joined against Moses and Aaron. The people quarreled with Moses, saying, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished at the instance of the Lord! Why have you brought the Lord’s congregation into this wilderness for us and our beasts to die there? Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place, a place with no grain or figs or vines or pomegranates? There is not even water to drink!” Moses and Aaron came away from the congregation to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and fell on their faces. The Presence of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “You and your brother Aaron take the rod and assemble the community, and before their very eyes order the rock to yield its water. Thus you shall produce water for them from the rock and provide drink for the congregation and their beasts.”
Moses took the rod from before the Lord, as He had commanded him. Moses and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of the rock; and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?” And Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod. Out came copious water, and the community and their beasts drank.
But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.” (B’midbar 20:1-12)

They bury her at Kadesh beneath the scorching sun
as restless winds torment the barren sand.
He lingers by her grave, his eyes bedewed with tears
trickling like the river drops that spattered on his face
when he floated in his ark of reeds
and she watched over him.

Wearily he turns away, and then they start again
these people, moaning and complaining.
He wonders to himself, with a fierceness born of sorrow,
whether they will ever learn. His temper blazes
like the thicket enveloped by flames, but he, devoured,
lashes out, and as the fire dies away
he tastes the bitter ashes.

He turns once more to tend his flock,
to plead with God on their behalf, knowing
that he will not lead them
to the promised land
yet caring that God’s covenant
will ever be fulfilled.


In a commentary on Parashat Chukkat from 2012, http://learn.jtsa.edu/content/commentary/hukkat/5772/humanity-moses Professor Arnold M Eisen addresses the humanity of Moses. He opens the discussion: “Moses is so very human in this week’s portion. He loses his sister to death at the start of chapter 20, and his brother at the end of that same chapter. In between, he is told by God that he will not live to see the fulfillment of his life’s work (guiding his people into the Promised Land) either – because, being human rather than perfect, he does not follow God’s instructions precisely enough when performing a miracle that elicits water from a rock. Readers of the Torah suspect that, by this point in his long life, Moses does not much care for the work he does so selflessly. He seems worn down by the incessant kvetching of his people, and has long since grown used to the inscrutability of the God he loves and serves. We are drawn to this man. We want to know him and learn from him. In this way as in so many others, he accomplishes the Torah’s wishes, if not God’s. He draws us into the story, and makes us proud to be its heirs.”
Professor Eisen wonders, as have countless scholars before him, what it is about Moses’s behavior at the rock that earns him such a harsh punishment. He cites an excursus by biblical scholar Rabbi Jacob Milgrom in his volume: The JPS Commentary: Numbers, “Down through the ages, the sin of Moses, as described in Numbers 20:1–13, has been regarded as one of the Gordian knots of the Bible: The punishment is clear, but what is the crime?” Rabbi Milgrom suggests three categories for the 10 major interpretations suggested through the ages for why Moses is punished: striking instead of speaking to the rock; displaying character traits unworthy of a leader; and uttering inappropriate words. Prof Eisen believes that Moses is punished for all of these. He notes, “Moses’s crime is deviating publicly from God’s command; letting frustration get the better of his speech; and, in so doing, showing himself to be “human all too human” rather than the exemplar of virtue God needs him to be at that moment, as at every moment. God’s punishment is harsh, but it was also fitting. Moses no longer has what it takes to lead his extremely human people in extremely trying circumstances. Someone else will do the job.”
Professor Eisen considers the story here: the people have just buried Miriam and immediately gang up against Moses and Aaron one more time. They seem not to have learned from the severe consequences of previous rebellions, or they are past caring. They have a slew of complaints ending with the lack of water. Moses and Aaron are commanded by God, as before, to take the rod that Moses used to perform other Divine miracles in the wilderness (Shemot 14:16, 17:1-7,9), to assemble the community and “speak to [or at] the rock” so that water for the people will spring forth. Moses and Aaron take up the rod and assemble the congregation as instructed, but then, says Prof Eisen, “Moses strays from his orders in two fascinating (and utterly human) ways.”
Moses says, “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?” (B’midbar 20:10). He addresses the people derogatorily by calling them “rebels” and he strikes the rock, not once but twice. And all this in full view of the people. God’s displeasure is not slow in coming: “Because you did not trust Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the Children of Israel, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.” (B’midbar 20:12)
Prof Eisen asks, “Shouldn’t Moses know better? One notes in his defense that at an earlier point in the Israelites’ journey (Exod. 17:6), God responded to a similar uprising occasioned by lack of water with an order to get water from a rock by striking it with the rod. What is the point of Moses bringing the rod this time, too, if not to use it as he did before? That is precisely the point, I believe. The Creator of Heaven and Earth is not bound by precedent. This is not magic but miracle: no formulaic actions or utterances are allowed. (Milgrom makes this clear in his commentary.) What is more, God’s commands, when they are as specific as this one, do not allow for anything less than specific obedience from those closest to God. Moses strikes the rock without having been commanded to do so. The gesture at that moment is utterly natural — that is to say, human. The man’s sister has just died, he is frustrated beyond measure by Israelite whining, and he was told the last time this situation occurred to use the rod in his hand for striking. So he does. But humanity is not a valid excuse.” Prof Eisen also focuses on the subsequent words that Moses uses, which he believes betray a similar deviation from God’s intention: “God says, “You shall draw (vehotzeta) water from the rock for them,” with the verb in second-person singular. It is only natural that Moses should say to the people, “shall we draw (notzi) water?” Some commentators believe that, in doing so, he takes credit for the miracle himself rather than awarding it to God. But Moses can surely be forgiven for his phrasing, being human. He merely follows God’s own grammar, in fact adjusting it to include Aaron (“we”) rather than speaking only of himself.” But Prof Eisen suggests that the commentators have some basis for their criticism. He says, “His sarcasm seems to place performance of the miracle in doubt, and Moses does omit any mention of God. Perhaps he feels that by this point in events, after God has fed the people with manna, found them water more than once, and sent more quail than they can eat — not to mention causing the ground to open miraculously and swallow up the leaders of Korah’s rebellion, and — oh yes — the minor matter of splitting the Red Sea and drowning Pharaoh’s army — after all that, perhaps it might not be necessary to explain that God is saving Israel yet again and that he is only the intermediary.” He notes that in the end, God is sanctified despite Moses and Aaron, actually “through the very fact of their punishment.”
Prof Eisen notes that the punishment exposes that Moses and Aaron, and Miriam also, despite being leaders, are flawed mortals, like all the people. They too make fatal mistakes. He adds that Aaron dies shortly after this episode, and subsequently the people start complaining again, at which point God sends serpents to bite and kill them. The people then plead with Moses to intercede for them, and he does (fashioning a copper serpent which, when looked at, provides a cure for bitten victims). By this point, Prof Eisen says that Moses must be wondering, as we, the readers do, how on earth these people are going to get to their final destination with their very human weaknesses. He concludes “That may be why, in answer to Moses’s doubt and ours, the Torah immediately tells of battles that the Israelites win. We hear of a “Book of the Wars of the Lord,” and are given snatches from collected poetry of triumph — as if to assure Moses, tired and resigned after decades in the wilderness, that the promise of the Promised Land stands. His people will get there without him.
“Moses understands that he is not the leader to take them there. He is more than ready to hand over responsibility to someone else. This is the last — and perhaps the greatest — of the many lessons he teaches us about being human and trying one’s best as a human being to do the will of God.”

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Korach: Almond Blossom

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelite people and take from them — from the chieftains of their ancestral houses — one staff for each chieftain … twelve staffs in all. Inscribe each man’s name on his staff… also inscribe Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. Deposit them in the Tent of Meeting before the Pact, where I meet with you. The staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout, and I will rid Myself of the incessant mutterings of the Israelites against you…
Moses deposited the staffs before the Lord, in the Tent of the Pact. The next day Moses entered the Tent of the Pact, and there the staff of Aaron of the house of Levi had sprouted: it had brought forth sprouts, produced blossoms, and borne almonds. Moses then brought out all the staffs from before the Lord to all the Israelites; each identified and recovered his staff. (B’midbar 17:16-24)

Twelve staffs of chiseled wood, long since severed
from a living tree, lie inert and barren
before the Ark.

Early light shimmers on the burnished staves;
the dawn zephyr breathes through sacred stillness
and fragrance fills the air.

Aaron’s staff alone has blossomed; crowned
with pink-flushed blooms, as oval almonds dangle
from green and tender stalks.


In Parashat Korach, we see how this eponymous figure mobilises a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. Ultimately the rebels, their families and possessions are destroyed when the earth swallows them up. Subsequently God sends a fire which annihilates another 250 of their followers. One might suppose that such miraculous and dramatic occurrences would persuade the Israelites that Moses is their God-ordained leader and the revolt would be quelled! Not so. The next day, the entire community rails against Moses and Aaron that they have brought about the deaths of God’s people! God becomes angry and brings a plague which destroys 14,700 more people, while Aaron runs to offer incense to atone for the people and check the plague.
Then comes the miracle of Aaron’s staff and only then the rebellion subsides.
In an article in Covenant and Conversation, http://www.rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation-5769-korach-a-lesson-in-conflict-resolution/, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks addresses the episode of Aaron’s staff which he believes holds a profound message. “The use of force never ends a conflict. It merely adds grievance to injury. Even the miracle of the ground opening up and swallowing his opponents did not secure for Moses the vindication he sought.
“What ended the conflict was something else altogether: the visible symbol that Aaron was the chosen vehicle of the G-d of life. The gentle miracle of the dead wood that came to life again, flowering and bearing fruit…”

On the phrase, “the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout,” the Malbim says that the one whose staff sprouts is the one in whom God’s holy spirit rests, and who will bring forth holy fruit…

The medieval commentator Abrabanel links the phrase, “and it had borne almonds” to two verses in Jeremiah (1:11-12). Jeremiah has a vision and God asks him what he sees and he responds, “Makel shaked ani ro’eh – I see a rod of an almond tree.” God says, “Heitavta lir’ot ki shoked Ani al devari la’asoto – You have seen well, for I watch over My word to perform it.” The message of the vision is conveyed through the etymological connection between shaked – an almond tree and shoked (to be) watchful, diligent. Abrabanel denotes this as a sign that that Aaron’s descendants have been chosen to watch over the priesthood for all time.

In an article on the website of Yeshivat Birkat Moshe, http://www.ybm.org.il/hebrew/LessonArticle.aspx?item=3895, Rabbi Avraham Wolfson brings an insight into the episode of Korach’s rebellion.
He cites a Midrash which Rashi brings, in which the sages attribute to Korach a complaint which does not appear in the text. The text says that Korach complains that the entire congregation is holy and Moses and Aaron have arrogated to themselves too much power. The Midrash however says that Korach’s complaint is a personal one, relating to the order of succession in the tribe of Levi: Kohath (Levi’s son) had four sons: Amram, Yizhar, Chevron and Uzziel. Korach argues that Moses and Aaron, the sons of the first-born Amram, have received their due (as King and High Priest). But the next rank, prince over the sons of Kohath had been awarded by Moses (at God’s behest) to Elzaphan, the son of Uzziel, the youngest brother. Korach’s claim in the text is an ideological one with which he is able to sweep the people along, (after all God had told them they were to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation). However, his personal, underlying motives were not pure.
Rabbi Wolfson suggests that the people did not accept the sudden destruction of Korach and his followers as a legitimate answer to the question Korach had raised, and although their murmuring against Moses and Aaron, that they had killed God’s people angered God, He never-the-less addressed their complaint with a further sign of the flowering staff. Rabbi Wolfson comments, that even though on the surface, all the staffs appeared identical, it became apparent that there was an essential difference between Aaron’s staff and the others. Only Aaron’s staff contained the capacity to blossom and bring forth fruit in the presence of holiness. And here, he says, is the hint which answers the people’s claim that they are all holy, and that there is no justification in singling out only Aaron and his tribe to perform the holy service. Rabbi Wolfson quotes the verse in Samuel l 16:7, “Man looks at the outward appearance while God looks at the heart,” and comments that God’s choice of Aaron and his sons stemmed from His ability, which humans lack, to see within.

Rabbi Moshe David of Tchortkov comments on the final verse of this episode. He says that it is clear why Moses would show Aaron’s staff to the people, so they should see the miracle, but why, he wonders, does the Torah add the detail that the chieftains’ staffs were also displayed? He answers that it says that they took their staffs, to show that they had not blossomed. Each of the chieftains, he says, was on a sufficiently high level to have the strength to show that Aaron had been chosen and not he.

In a commentary on the sprouting staff from 2011, http://www.rebjeff.com/blog/korach-the-sprouting-staff,
Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser addresses a modern perspective of submitting to authority. He notes “Modern people do not like authority much. We always have to have a reason why we should allow someone else to make decisions on our behalf, tell us what to do, or have any measure of control over us. We’re always asking, “Who made you king?” ” He adds that Korach’s challenge to Moses and Aaron (that all of the people are holy, so why do Moses and Aaron raise themselves above the congregation) is one that “resonates with our own skepticism about authority.” He continues that God’s action basically shows that it is He Who gives Moses and Aaron the authority by splitting the the earth to swallow up Korach and his followers. And that, says Reb Jeff, might seem to be the end of the argument. And he adds that the episode that follows, of Aaron’s sprouting staff, might seem to confirm this. So Reb Jeff wonders what this teaches us in our struggles with the idea of authority. Today, we see no miracles telling us whom to obey (and if we did, he surmises, it probably wouldn’t work). Reb Jeff comments that we do need authority, in order for society to function and not descend into anarchy. He cites the philosopher Thomas Hobbes who said that life without authority would be, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” He says that he perceives the episode of the sprouting staff, following as it does the “wrathful story of the earth swallowing Korach whole” as affirming that “authority equals life. Authority is symbolized by a dead piece of wood bearing fruit, reminding us that without submitting ourselves to the authority of something outside of ourselves, we’re all dead meat.” He concludes, “The story of the sprouting staff challenges us, as Jews and as human beings, to ask what authority we place over us in our lives. Whom do we serve? Our own desires? Our fears? Our jobs? Money? Or, do we accept the authority of something higher — values, ethics, devotion to family and community, God? Are we ruled by the stick that threatens to chase us, or are we ruled by our own pursuit of the sweet scent of values that affirm life?”

In Itturei Torah (compiled by Aaron Yaakov Greenberg) a story is related about Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Kook (father of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook) who once was sent abroad as an emissary. He arrived in a congregation where there was a huge controversy raging between the congregants and the gabbai. Rabbi Kook who was known to be a great Torah scholar and had come from the Holy Land, was received warmly and asked whether he would adjudicate and be the “messenger of peace.” He agreed and mounted the podium. In his derasha, he mentioned the conflict of Korach and his followers and asked why Aaron’s staff had borne almonds and not another fruit. Here, he said, is hinted the result of a conflict. There are two species of almonds – bitter and sweet. The first sort, he said, are sweet at first and end up bitter, while the other sort are bitter first but end up sweet. Here is the principle of strife and peace. Rabbi Kook said the first sort hints at conflict in which the rivalry, opposition and wrangling are “sweet” but the end is very bitter. And the opposite is peace – at the beginning it is bitter, how hard it is to give in to a rival, the urge burns within not to surrender. But in the end, he concluded, when someone gives in to his better self, and surrenders a little in order to make peace, how good and sweet it is for all parties.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Kook’s words entered the hearts of his listeners and he was able to bring peace to the congregation.

Shelach Lecha: God’s Tallit

The Lord said to Moses as follows: Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God. I the Lord am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I, the Lord your God. (B’midbar 15:37-41

We see that God unfurls the light – the pristine swathe
of pure white silk He wraps around the world, and likewise
we aspire to enrobe ourselves in holiness.

He strings the clouds over azure sky: we peer
between the cracks and seek to understand;
our eyes cannot discern what our heart might hold is true.

Yet as He stretches forth His shawl – great shimmering folds
of light, arrayed across the heavens,
He beckons us to shelter in the shadow of His wings.


Parashat Shelach Lecha contains several seemingly disparate themes, starting with the tragic episode of the spies who went to see what the land looked like, and returned with a negative report, and ending with the instruction to the children of Israel to attach blue-threaded fringes to the corners of their garments, as a visual prompt – a reminder to recall the mitzvot and observe them. In a commentary on the Parasha called The Depth of Sight, from 2013, http://learn.jtsa.edu/content/commentary/shelah-lekha/5773/depth-sight Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz notes that the narrative of this Parasha is “bookended by sight”. He observes that at the very beginning, Moses tells the scouts to go up and see what kind of country it is (B’midbar 13:18). He adds that sight closes the Parasha, as we are instructed to attach blue-threaded fringes to the corners of our garments, to see them and remember to keep the mitzvot (B’midbar 15:39). He notes “In the first instance, sight becomes a stumbling block for the spies as this all important sense triggers fear and panic; while, in the second instance, sight is meant to spark memory and to encourage observance. How may we understand the depth of sight — especially in relation to tzitzit, a commandment the Jewish People continue to observe faithfully in the modern day?” Rabbi Berkowitz brings a teaching from the Sefat Emet, Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Ger, who writes, “The word tzitzit (fringe) is interpreted by Rashi as coming from the verse, “He peers between the cracks” (Song of Songs 2:9). The purpose of this mitzvah is to open a Jew’s eyes. That is why the Talmud teaches that “one who is careful about the commandment of the fringes merits greeting the Divine Presence,” since it says, “and you will see Him.” Tzitziyot are mentioned three times in this passage, parallel to the three times in the year when Israel were to “be seen” (the Three Pilgrimage Festivals) . . . We are God’s witnesses, and of a witness it is said, “If he sees or knows” (Leviticus 5:1). Knowing is higher than seeing; knowing is the rung of Moses himself. Perhaps that is why they were given the commandment of fringes. When they fell from their rung by no longer fully accepting Moses’ leadership, they would have need of this “seeing,” a step lower than knowing.” (Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, The Language of Truth, 241–242).
Rabbi Berkowitz concludes, “Seeing is multivalent: for it is not only a physical sense to which the Torah refers, but also a spiritual and interpretive dimension. Unlike the experience of the spies at the beginning of the parashah, Israelite “seeing” should open both the eyes and the heart. It is a seeing that should lead us to embrace a deep, rich, and resonant truth; and it should bring us a step closer to becoming “God’s witnesses.” The negativity engendered by seeing at the opening of our parashah becomes redeemed and “repaired” through the blessing of tzitzit. The knotty texture of the fringes combined with the stark contrast between the blue and white should remind us all of the nature of our spiritual and worldly treks — the challenges that one encounters along the journey to “acquire” observance, as well as the eternal challenge of “acquiring” the Land of Israel.”

Certain verses are recited by some, before and after donning the tallit, the fringed prayer shawl. If we examine these, we obtain an insight into some midrashic thoughts which bring the analogy of God wearing a tallit. Before putting on the tallit, the following verse is recited, “Bless the Lord, my soul. Lord my God, You are very great; You are clothed with splendor and majesty. The Lord wraps Himself in light as with a garment; He stretches out the heavens like a curtain…” (Tehillim 104:1-3) In the midrash on this verse in Tehillim there is the following discussion: “He wraps Himself in light as with a garment” – Rabbi Shimon ben Yehotsedek asked Rabbi Shemuel bar Nachmani: How did God create the radiant aura? He said to him: He wrapped Himself in a white tallit and illuminated the world with its light. And in Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer (Chapter 3) it is brought: From which place were the heavens created? From the light of the raiment of the Holy One Blessed be He, that He was wearing, He spread it like a robe, and stretched it out…[and made the heavens] as it is said, The Lord wraps Himself in light as with a garment; He stretches out the heavens like a curtain…
The choice of this verse before donning the tallit hints at a desire to be enlightened by God’s light. The verse said after putting on the tallit speaks of a yearning to be sheltered under God’s wings and to see by the light He shines on the world: “How great is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house; and You water them from the river of Your delights. For with You is the fountain of life: in Your light shall we see light. O continue Your lovingkindness unto those who know You; and Your righteousness to the upright in heart.” (Tehillim 36: 7- 10)
In the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 17) we also encounter the theme that the rabbis bring, of God wrapping Himself in a tallit. On the verse in Shemot (34:6) “And the Lord passed by before him and proclaimed...” R. Johanan said: Had this passage not been written, it would have been impossible to have said it, for it teaches us that the Holy One, blessed be He, wrapped Himself, as does a shaliach tsibbur [prayer leader] who recites the prayers for a congregation, and pointing out to Moses the regular order of prayer, said to him: Whenever Israel sins, let him pray to Me, after this manner, and I shall pardon him.
So the moments of closeness and forgiveness on Yom Kippur, when this verse and the subsequent ones enumerating God’s attributes of mercy are said repeatedly) are interpreted by the sages as a time when God is wrapped with us in a tallit as the shaliach tsibbur of the people. And the Maharsha* connects between these two tallitot saying that he found in an old Kabalistic tome the following teaching, “ God is wrapped in the the same white tallit in which He was wrapped at the creation of the world, when it says, “He wraps Himself in light as with a garment.” ” so, he teaches, we join the Holy One Who wears the white tallit of mercy and shelters us under His tallit of light.

*Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer HaLevi Eidels (1555 – 1631) was a renowned rabbi and Talmudist. He is also known as Maharsha, a Hebrew acronym for “Our Teacher, the Rabbi Shmuel Eidels”.
The Maharsha was born in Kraków, Poland. His father, Yehuda, was a Talmudist and both parents were descendants of rabbinic families – his mother Gitel was a cousin of Rabbi Yehuda Loew, the Maharal of Prague. From early childhood, the Maharsha’s remarkable talents were evident. When he came of marriageable age, the Maharsha was offered many prestigious shidduchim (marriage partners), but he rejected them, asserting that he wanted to devote himself solely to Torah study. He married the daughter of Edel Lifschitz of Posen and the late Moshe Lifschitz, rabbi of Brisk. He then moved to Posen and established a yeshiva there. For twenty years, all the expenses of the yeshiva were assumed by his mother-in-law. In appreciation of her support he adopted her name. After her death, he served as rabbi in the following prominent communities: Chełm, Lublin and Ostroh. He authored Chiddushei Halachot – an incisive and analytical commentary on the Talmud, Rashi and Tosafot together, with a focus on Tosafot. It is said that if one grasps the Maharsha, then one has understood the Tosafot. This commentary was quickly accepted and was printed in almost all editions of the Talmud. Chiddushei Halachot is based on Maharsha’s teaching in his yeshiva.
The Maharsha also wrote an extensive commentary on the aggadot of the Talmud known as the Chiddushei Aggadot reflecting a wide knowledge of philosophy and Kabbalah.

Beha’alotcha: The Gatherer

Then as the rear-guard of all the divisions, the standard of Dan would set out, troop by troop… (B’midbar 10:25)
A lagging child, receding
through the crowded ranks,
bewildered and astray,
is soothed and taken back.

A treasured bundle, dropped
and unwittingly forsaken
as the people press on forwards,
is picked up and returned.

Prayers, unfocused,
uttered hurriedly and tiredly,
are lifted and directed
to the One Who gathers all.


The tribe of Dan was the most populous, and brought up the rear in the marching order. The word for rear-guard here is literally “measef – the gatherer.” Rashi suggests that Dan’s task was to gather up lost objects that had been dropped during the journey, and restore them to their owners as well as to gather in straying individuals who had become lost or fallen behind.
Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin* in his book Oznayim LaTorah, asks why this important task of saving people and property fell to the tribe of Dan. He answers, “It seems to say that the Holy One Blessed be He wanted to grant the tribe of Dan mitzvot between man and his fellow, given that they [the tribe of Dan] were negligent with mitzvot between man and God. As it is explained (B’midbar Rabbah 2:6) Dan darkened the world by idol worship which Jeroboam carried out when he turned to all of Israel and none would accept the calves, and only the tribe of Dan accepted them…and the Holy One Blessed be He, Who does not want to push anyone away, granted Dan the mitzva of saving people and property, and made this tribe “the gatherer” for all the divisions.”
The Etz Hayim commentary of the JPS adds that there is a need in today’s community for people who express their religious faith by caring for the left-behind. The tribe of Dan, although weak in religious faith, was strong in their love for their fellow Israelites.
In Sha’ar HaChassidut, the story is told of Rabbi Michel of Zlotchov**, who used to pray every day at a very late hour, saying, “The tribe of Dan was known to journey last of all the camps (divisions) and gather up all that had been lost on the way, and thus they would pick up all the prayers the children of Israel had prayed unmindfully, so I, like them, pray last.”

*Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin (1881–1966), also known as the Lutzker Rav, was a famous Orthodox rabbi who served as the rabbi of Lutsk, Ukraine.
Rabbi Sorotzkin was born in Žagarinė, Lithuania in 1881. Initially, he studied with his father, Rabbi Ben-Zion Sorotzkin, who was the town’s rabbi. He then studied in the yeshivot of Volozhin and Slabodka. He served as the Rabbi of Voranava, Belarus (near Vilna) in 1910 for two years and then of Zhetel for 18 years and was appointed Rabbi of Lutsk in 1930 where he remained until World War ll. He managed to escape the war and reach Mandatory Palestine.
When the Council of Torah Sages of the Agudath Israel was founded in Israel, Rabbi Sorotzkin was appointed vice chairman. In 1953, Rabbi Sorotzkin was chosen to head the Chinuch Atzma’i.
He authored the works, Oznaim LaTorah, a commentary on the Torah, Moznaim LaTorah, on the Jewish festivals, Sheailot Utshuvot Moznaim LaMishpat and HaDeah ve-ha-Dibur which is a collection of derashot.

**Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov (1721 – 1786) was born in Brody, Galicia to Rabbi Yitzchak of Drohobitch who was initially an opponent of Chasidisim but became an ardent admirer of the Baal Shem Tov. Young Yechiel Michel received instruction from the Baal Shem Tov, becoming one of his most prominent disciples. After the Baal Shem Tov died, R’ Yechiel Michel became a student of the Maggid of Mezritch. A master of homiletics and a spellbinding orator, he was a much sought-after preacher and lecturer.
The Zlotchover Maggid was largely responsible for introducing Chasidism to the Jews of Galicia. He suffered much from the mitnagdim who opposed the “new sect,” judging it dangerous and heretic. In the wake of excommunication and book burnings directed against chasidim, he was forced to move from town to town, serving as maggid in the Galician communities of Brody, Alek, and Zlotchov, finally finding refuge in Yampol in Volhynia, the cradle of Chasidism.
Rabbi Yechiel Michel had one daughter and five sons, all eminent Torah scholars. Chasidim called his sons the Maggid’s five chumashim (Books of the Torah). Although Rabbi Yechiel Michel did not write any books himself, his thoughts and perspectives have been compiled into a work entitled Mayim Rabim. He founded a multi-branched dynasty and had numerous prestigious students, foremost among them were Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apta, also known as the Ohev Yisrael, and Rabbi Mordechai of Neshchiz, known as the Rishpei Eish.