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.
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.