Saturday 18th June 2022 19th Sivan 5782
Numbers 8:1–12:16, Zechariah 2:14-4:7; John 12:1-26
The Republic of Tel Aviv
The Jewish Nation has and has had precisely one capital throughout its generations: Yerushalayim. Most unfortunately, there is one city in Israel that many Israelis feel serves as a directly contrasting alternative to our cultural capital. That city, of course, is Tel Aviv, which, for its distinctiveness, has earned itself the informal title of the "Republic of Tel Aviv."
To be quite honest, we cannot deny that the giant metropolitan area known as Gush Dan – the Dan Bloc, of which Tel Aviv is the primary component – is actually the population center of the State of Israel, both numerically and financially. What remains up for debate is where our cultural and spiritual capital will be. And here arises a fascinating question in the spiritual realm: Why is it that specifically in our generation, the Dan area has become the major population center of Israel? In the days of the Bible, Samaria and Judah were the population centers, and during the times of the Tannaim and Amoraim – approximately 500 years at the beginning of the Common Era, when the Talmud was being redacted – the Galilee was our population center. So how did the coastal Gush Dan merit to receive top spot, after centuries upon centuries of relegation to the bottom of the heap? The answer is rooted in the very essence of the Tribe of Dan, after which this region is known, as alluded to in this week's Torah portion of Behaalot'cha. The Torah recounts here the travels of the Children of Israel in the desert, arranged according to tribes, with each tribe in its assigned position and adorned with its flag. The last of the formations was none other than the one led by Dan – which receives a special mention as such in the Torah: "the last (me'asef, in Hebrew) of the camps, with their hosts" (Bamidbar/Numbers 10,25). Rashi explains that this is not only a designation of Dan's position, but also of its function: "Large in population, the Danites would find the lost items of the other tribes and return them." This is based on the literal meaning of the word me'asef, which means "gather;" Dan was the gatherer, the returner of lost items. This teaches us the very nature of the Tribe of Dan. His strength is always revealed at the edge, the end. He is always last, as when the tribes received their allotted inheritances in Eretz Yisrael: Dan was last to receive his (see Yehoshua/Joshua 19,40). In addition, the last judge in Israel was Samson, of the Tribe of Dan; his strength was revealed to all at the end of his life, when he brought down the house atop the Philistines: "The number that he killed at the time of his own death was more than those he killed during his lifetime" (Judges 16,30). In fact, the symbol of the Tribe of Dan is a snake, as Yaakov Avinu blessed Dan: "a snake on the path… biting the horse's heel so that the rider falls backward" (B'reshit 49,17). Quite symbolic: The snake strikes at the "edge" of the body, the heel. Thus, the leading tribe in Israel is Yehuda, likened to a lion in Yaakov's blessing, and the tribe that "leads" from behind is Dan. The gatherer is also a type of leader – but he must choose whether he pushes the group ahead, towards the one who leads the way, or pulls them backwards, as an alternative, negative leadership. Dan was both. In this weekly Torah portion, we see that he was a positive leadership force, returning lost items and pushing the nation forward towards Judah. In the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), too, there were two artisans: Betzalel of the Tribe of Judah, and Ahaliav ben Achisamakh of the Tribe of Dan. This was in order to include all of Israel, from the tribe of royalty to that of a son of the handmaidens [Bilhah and Zilpah]. And Moshe, when he blessed Israel just before his death, grants to Dan the symbol the lion, the symbol of Judah, the tribe of royalty: "Dan is a young lion, springing from the Bashan" (D'varim 33,22). But when we entered the Land with Yehoshua Bin Nun, things began getting complicated. Dan received his inheritance in the Coastal Plane, including the port of Jaffa, the gateway to the world – thus enabling extensive contact with the gentiles. When the hostile Philistines began to harass Dan, the tribe migrated northward to find a different estate. They got all the way up to Layish, at the northern edge of the country, which they conquered from its heathens and named "Dan," in memory of their tribal ancestor. (Actually, the Torah itself foresaw that this would happen, as Moshe hinted to it when he said in his blessing that Dan would "spring from the Bashan," what today is called the Golan. And in terms of the Jubilee requirement that tribes must dwell in their ancestral inheritances, this is fulfilled when Dan is in the Golan – a sign that the area was Divinely designated for Dan.) Ever since then, Dan has been the northern border of the Land of Israel, as is written, "from Dan to Be'er Sheva." However, together with Dan's decision to move to the northern edge, they also decided to become a "leader" – but one that turned in the opposite direction of the leader in front. The Tribe of Dan takes with it to its new home the infamous Idol of Micha, thereby becoming a symbol of idol-worship and opposition to the Holy Temple and Jerusalem where the kings of Judea rule. With this, Dan sheds his "snake" identity and becomes a "lion" roaring in the opposite direction of the Jerusalem lion. Unsurprisingly, the punishment is swift to come. Dan the straggler who sought to become a leader, becomes the first to fall in the final battle for the Kingdom of Israel, and the northern section of Dan is the first one to be exiled from the Land – leading the way to the tragic ending. Fast-forwarding scores of generations later, we have now returned home to our land. We are the "gatherers," the pick-up generation relative to all the generations of the Exile that longed for this very time. We have reached the Footsteps of the Messiah, the generation of the "heel," reminiscent of Dan, likened to the snake that grabs the heel.
And what we see is that most of Israel has returned to Gush Dan – for this is where the rectification must lie. Now is the time to return from Layish/Bashan and return to the original Dan estate. And once again the old difficulties arise: Will Dan be the gathering, unifying force that pushes the whole nation towards Jerusalem? Or will it again seek to be a force leading a counter-culture contrary to the spirit of Jerusalem? Will it join up with the lion of Jerusalem, or will it seek to be an alternative animal king? But we are confident that, at this time of Redemption, the Tribe of Dan will find the way to rectify its mistakes, and the Republic of Tel Aviv will bestow upon the rest of the nation the sanctity and special spirituality of Jerusalem – speedily in our days!