Dan: The Tevet Personality
The Dan tribe embodies special characteristics needed for this time of the year
The Dan Personality
The new month of Tevet represents the coldest month of the year, the month that is most associated with the winter. Every month of the year is associated (according to the Arizal and based on Sefer Yetizrah) with one of the Twelve Tribes (with the thirteenth month, the second Adar, that appears in intercalated years, being associated with the tribe of Levi). The Tribe of Dan is the one associated with the month of Tevet. Let us see how Dan warms and illuminates the cold winter.
Dan: Lost and Found
When the Children of Israel walked through the desert, the tribe of Judah walked at the front of the procession and the tribe of Dan brought up the rear. Participants in an army hike or a trek know that a strong person is needed for the rear. It has to be someone who knows how to encourage everyone to keep going and ensure that nobody is left behind or gets lost. The sages say that Dan’s role at the rear was to find and return lost items. More importantly, it was Dan’s role to take care of the people who got lost, to return them to their families and their place.
Translating the Dan tribe’s role into the psychological and spiritual dimensions, reveals that their role is to help people find themselves. Sometimes, people lose their way, their self-confidence, their sense of purpose, their identity. The tribe of Dan knows how to help all those people, to get them back on their feet and show them the way. In a sense, they return to a person his or her most important possession: their self.
A Simple Jew
What is the source of this talent of the tribe of Dan? After Leah gave birth to four sons, Rachel asked Jacob to marry her maidservant, Bilhah. Bilhah gave birth to Dan. He did not boast the illustrious lineage of the sons of Leah and Rachel. He was the son of the maidservant, who, on the surface, married Jacob just to enable her mistress, Rachel, to ‘compete’ with her sister Leah.
Dan was born just after Judah was born to Leah. But it seems that there is a great distance between them: Judah marches at the forefront of the nation, while Dan is at the rear. Judah is the king and Dan is described as “the least of the tribes.” But it is specifically for this reason that Dan merits something very straightforward. The people of Dan embody the character of the simple Jew, nothing more. Dan did not have illusions of grandeur. He did not have to fill a lofty role and therefore is not obliged to fulfill great expectations. As a result, he does not bear the complexes that sometimes characterize more important and wise people. Dan merits simple, robust mental health with which he can help his brothers find their way and their identity.
Dan knows how to make decisions when others may get confused by complex situations and arguments. The Talmud relates that when the sons of Jacob came to bury him in the Cave of Machpelah, Esau appeared and delayed the burial, claiming that the place in the Cave was reserved for him (since Jacob had already used up his allotted spot to bury Leah). The sons retorted that Jacob had bought Esau’s plot from him years ago and that the deed was in Egypt. The quick-footed Naftali was dispatched to hasten back to Egypt to bring the deed, while everyone was forced to wait, while Jacob lay in shame. It truly was a painful and disgraceful situation.
Chushim, the son of Dan, was hard of hearing and could not hear the negotiations that had sent Naftali off to Egypt. All he understood was that Esau was keeping his grandfather’s remains from being buried and that this was a shameful situation. So, he raised his sword and terminated the dispute with a blow to Esau’s head.
I Hope, God, for Your Salvation
Jacob’s affection for the tribe of Dan is also apparent in the blessing with which he blessed them before he died: “Dan will judge his nation, like the one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be [like] a snake on the path, a horned snake on the road, which bites the horse’s heels, so that his rider falls backward. I hope, God, for Your salvation” (Genesis 49:16-18).
While giving Dan this blessing, Jacob saw Samson, the illustrious hero and judge from the tribe of Dan, smiting his enemies like a snake—all in his mind’s eye. Jacob vicariously experienced Samson’s last moments and his cry, “Remember me and strengthen me, just this time, Elokim, and I will take revenge of the Philistines for one of my two eyes” (Judges 16:28) and cried together with Samson, “I hope, God, for Your salvation” (Genesis ibid.)
The tribe of Dan has a special power to triumph. They ‘finish the job’ with one fell swoop. Samson bears a spark of the future, a messianic spark, passed on from Chushim, the son of Dan. In fact, the name Chushim (חֻשִׁים) is an anagram for Mashiach (מָשִׁיחַ)! Jacob also describes Dan as a “snake on the path.” In gematria, “snake” (נָחָשׁ) also equals “Mashiach.”
Before his death, Jacob attempts to see and reveal the time of the redemption to his sons. “Gather and I will tell you what will happen to you at the end of days.” The end, however, was concealed from him. God’s Essential Name, Havayah, is also not written in the Torah portions read during the month of Tevet about the descent of the small family of Israel to Egypt. But when Jacob blesses Dan, the light suddenly shines, a bright messianic light to illuminate the darkness of Egypt: “I hope, God (Havayah), for Your salvation.” This is the one and only time that Havayah is mentioned in Tevet’s Torah portions.
There is a special Aramaic expression in the Midrash (Vayikra rabba 24:3): “Didan notzach” (דִּידַן נָצַח) which means, “triumph is ours.” This clearly alludes to Dan. The first word contains the name Dan, while the remaining 5 letters in the phrase, which are דינצח, equal 162 or 3 times 54, the value of “Dan” (דָּן). Thus the numerical value of the entire phrase, “Didan notzach” (דִּידַן נָצַח) is equal to 4 times Dan (דָּן).
(In Chabad, the fifth day of Tevet is known as Didan notzach. This is the day that the Lubavitcher Rebbe won the so-called Book trial).
Mashiach of Chaos
Samson is a supernatural figure. He is considered one of Israel’s judges and saviors. Everything about him is extraordinary, from his birth until his death. He always worked alone, literally like a snake. He has tremendous powers, but they are not always channeled to the right place. Samson’s tremendous power is indeed messianic. It appears however in a wild form, unprocessed, irregular. Thus, it ultimately breaks.
In Kabbalistic terms, Samson is associated with the World of Chaos, which has ‘many lights and few vessels.” It is tremendous energy that makes an explosion for lack of a fitting vessel to contain it. The ultimate purpose is to achieve the World of Rectification, in which energies appear in an orderly and balanced fashion, with the inner light settling firmly into the fitting external vessel.
We do not, however, want to completely forgo the immense power of chaos. The path of Mashiach is described as, “the lights of chaos in rectified vessels.” In other words, the tremendous power, like that of Samson, the “Mashiach of Chaos,” within orderly vessels and parameters, which do not result in death and destruction, but rather, in creativity and life.
The comparison of Dan to the snake expresses his attribute of anger. Anger is dangerous, and we must generally distance ourselves from it as if it were fire. It has the power of chaos and is not something to be played with. Dan’s anger, however, is positive and fitting. He knows how to fight with Israel’s sworn enemies, who do not understand any other language.
In Kabbalah, the sense of anger is the sense of the month of Tevet. The gematria (numerical value) of “Tevet” (טֵבֵת) equals “chaos” (תֹּהוּ). We can conclude that the month of Tevet can be used to rectify the attribute of anger, which has the great power of chaos, and apply it in correct measure and in the proper situations.
Dan’s real place in life is in the role of Judah’s “right hand man.” Despite the differences between the two, they have an interesting mode of cooperation. In the work of constructing the Tabernacle, the chief artisans were Betzalel from the tribe of Judah and Ohaliav from the tribe of Dan.
In Jacob’s blessing, we see the same concept: “Dan will judge his nation, like the one among the tribes of Israel,” referring to Judah, who is described as “the one,” the most special, of the tribes. In his blessing to the tribes, Moses uses the same words for both Judah and Dan: “Dan is a lion cub,” and “A lion cub is Judah.” Finally, Kabbalah teaches that the Chief of Staff of Mashiach (who is from the tribe of Judah) will be from the tribe of Dan. Together, they are victorious—Didan notzach!