Sunday, December 28, 2008

Lions and Moshiach

“And the sons of Dan were Chushim.”

Bereshis 46:23

In the process of building the Mishkan, Moshe was told by Hashem to choose Bezalel of the tribe of Yehuda, and Oholiav of the tribe of Dan. Rashi[1] quotes the Midrash Tanchuma[2], who explains, “Oholiav was from the tribe of Dan, the lowliest of the tribes from among the maidservants children, [as opposed to Leah or Rachel] and the Torah considered him as great as Bezalel, a member of the greatest of the tribes, when it came to building the Mishkan.” 


The tribe of Dan was not simply a lowly tribe as a result of birth to a maidservant of Yaakov. Rashi[3] tells us that they all worshiped idols, and thus the clouds of glory spit them out! The tribe of Yehuda was a lion, the source of a lineage of distinguished kings. Yehuda led the nation in their travels, and Dan took up the rear. And yet, the only two tribes compared to lions are Yehuda and Dan. Yaakov said[4] “a lion cub is Yehuda,” and Moshe said[5] “Dan is a lion cub.” R. Avraham Ibn Ezra[6] explains that it was necessary to have a lion taking up the rear just as it was needed to have a lion leading the Jewish nation in order to protect them from both sides. So Dan was a lion, while at the same time being the weakling struggling to keep up.

What is going on with Dan? Is he the weakest or one of the strongest? Is he in the back because he in inferior, or because he is a lion?


Yaakov had died, and it was time to bury him. The Gemara[7] tells us that, “When they arrived at the Cave of Machpelah, Esav approached and began disturbing them. He said, ‘we know that there can only be four coupled buried in this cave, and thus far there are three and Leah, the remaining spot next to Leah is for me!’ They replied to Esav, ‘but you sold your rights to Yaakov.” … Esav said ‘show me the contract,’ and they replied ‘but the contract is back in Egypt!’ So they sent Naftali, who was swift like a gazelle, to retrieve the contract. Chushim the son of Dan was there, and he was hard of hearing.[8] He asked the others, ‘what is going on?’ They told him. He said, ‘And until Naftali returns, must our Father sit here in this disgraceful state?’ He took a staff and smashed Esav on the head with it. Esav’s eyes fell out and landed on Yaakov’s leg. Yaakov opened his eyes and smiled.”


So Chushim killed Esav. And yet, Tosafos[9] tells us, that the descendants of Esav have a tradition telling that that Yehuda killed Esav, and in fact this is the opinion of the Sifri. He explains that both are true. First, Chushim stepped in and gave Esav a serious blow causing his eyes to come out, but he was still alive. Then Yehuda stepped in and finished him off, killing him.

“The [Messiah] son of David will come only to a generation that is entirely righteous, or one that is entirely wicked,” teaches the Gemara[10].

Esav was either finished off by the handicapped son of the lowest tribe, or the king of the greatest tribe! In fact, R. Moshe Wolfson,[11] writes that in the times just before the Moshiach, those alive will be the reincarnations of the souls of the tribe of Dan. It is interesting that only now in history do we witness the mass phenomenon of people being brought back to Torah out of their lowliness. “A generation that is entirely wicked.” In any other time in history, there was always something in the world that was not available, that provided a lure to the righteous. “Maybe fulfilling that desire will be pleasurable,” people wondered. In our age, every single degenerate action is readily available to any 16 year old! There are so many people who are 21 years old, have already tried every single avierah in the world, and have seen how hollow life can be. Baalei Tshuva are made every day of people who are “entirely wicked,” by people who have tried everything, and have nowhere to go but up. [These people are not “evil” merely engaged in wicked deeds, usually by no fault of their own. It is not our place to judge them.]

Maybe the ultimate redemption, the death of the kingdom of Esav, will follow the death of the actual Esav, beginning with the weakest of the weak, and being concluded by the strongest of the strong.


Chushim was the son of Dan, he was one fellow. But the Torah tells us that “the sons of Dan were Chushim.” Why is he called more than one person?[12] The Sheloh[13] quotes the Arizal as pointing out that the letters of Chushim, Ches, Shin, Yod, and Mem, are the very letters “Moshiach!” The Shloh elsewhere[14] talks of the transformation of Dan from a snake, (Yaakov called him a snake[15]) into a lion, in the times just before Moshiachs arrival! In fact, the Arizal writes[16] that while the father of Moshiach will be from Yehuda, his mother will be from Dan! Perhaps these are the two sons referred to in the verse. The sons of Dan were Chushim (and Moshiach.)

We are handicapped, and are the lowest of the low in so many ways. There has never been a generation that at this low a level. But when we stand up, we go from snake to lion. When we will fight and struggle, and stand up for the truth, we will bring the redemption. We will turn ourselves from weak snakes, slithereing in the back of the camp in our filth, and idolatry, to great roaring lions. We will get up and declare, “must our Father sit here in this disgraceful state?” The Moshiach can only come to a generation that is entirely righteous or entirely wicked. Esav was only done away with by a combination, first of the weakest of the weak, and then by the greatest of the great. We are all Chushim ben Dan’s – and every Chushim ben Dan has the power of Moshiach in him.

[1] Shemos 35:34

[2] Shemos Ch. 13

[3] To Yechezkel 16:15, see also Targum Yonason to Devarim 25:18

[4] Bereshis 49:9

[5] Devarim 33:22

[6] Commentary to Bamidbar 1:19

[7] Sotah 13a

[8] This is Rashi’s opinion. See however Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 39 where it is clear the Chushim oculd neither hear not speak at all. See also Radal ad loc.

[9] Gittin 55b s.v. BiYehuda BiHarugei Malchus.

[10] Sanhedrin 98a

[11] Emunas Ittecha Vayigash s.v B’Midrash, and there in Maamar Iggeres Hapurim

[12] See the Targum yonsason that in fact understands that Dan had many children, and Chushim is simply a description of them – meaning that they were strong and incredibly numerous. This seems to be why they were not mentioned by name – because there were so many eventual descendants! Ibn Ezra suggests that there were two children, and only one survived. The same is found in Chizkuni. The general consensus among the commentaries and the opinion of the Talmud is that there was one fellow named Chushim, for there were 70 souls who went down to Egypt (see Exodus 1) and this does not work out should Dan have had more than one child. Also, the list mentions every child by name, and thus the Targum Yonasons interpretation I fascinating. Apparently, the child could not be named for his descendants were so numerous that even their ancestor could not be counted by name. See Bereshis Rabbah 94:9 “In the Torah of R. Meir it said “And the son of Dan was Chushim.” [This does not mean that his text was different – and it’s depth is beyond the scope of this footnote.]

[13] Parshas Pinchas – Torah Ohr.

[14] Vezos Habracha - Derech Chaim Tochacos Mussar.
[15] Bereshis 49:17

[16] Likkutei Amarim 16. There he explains that this is how Yaakov mistook Shimshon for the Moshiach, for his father was from Dan and his mother was from Yehuda, the exact opposite.