921. That number still makes me shudder. The Egged 921 bus goes from Tel Aviv to Haifa and back. While the 900 express bus makes the trip in under an hour, the 921 sometimes takes three. It stops everywhere. It’s called the “me’assef” — the collector route. Sometimes, I’d get to the bus station only to find that I had just missed a 900, while a 921 was just getting ready to leave. I had to physically force myself to wait for the next 900, but once or twice I succumbed to the urge to “do something now” and boarded the 921. Each time it was an eminently regrettable experience[1].

The project of building the Mishkan was managed by a two-person team: Betzalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, from the Tribe of Yehuda, and Aholiav the son of Achisamach from the Tribe of Dan. While looking in the Torat Menachem Chumash for a topic for this week’s shiur I happened upon a short paragraph about these two builders, taken from a talk given by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I quote the Rebbe’s words verbatim: “The Torah equates[2] the talents of Betzalel, who was of esteemed origin, with Aholiav, who was from the lowest of the tribes (see Rashi to Shemot [30:14]). This encouraged the poorer members of the community, who could not afford to make large donations, that their contribution was as meaningful to Hashem as that of the rich men”. The Rebbe seems to be quoting directly from Rashi on Shemot [35:34], who writes that “the Tribe of Dan were the lowest of the Tribes, the son of the handmaiden [Bilhah], and even so the Torah equates [Aholiav] to the Tribe of Yehuda”.

While it was clear from the Rashi that the Rebbe did not reference (in Shemot 35) why the Tribe of Dan was considered to be “lesser” than the Tribe of Yehuda, it was unclear why they were considered financially less well-off, and so I looked at the Rashi that the Rebbe did reference (in Shemot 30). This verse enumerates the spices that went into the Ketoret – the incense offered each day by the High Priest. One of these spices is called “helbena”, sometimes identified as galbanum, a foul-smelling aromatic gum resin. Rashi brings a Midrash that teaches that a foul-smelling spice was included in the incense to represent the sinners of Israel, and that regardless of their deeds they remain an integral part of Am Yisrael. This Rashi makes the Rebbe’s words even more difficult to understand. Why would the Tribe of Dan be considered sinners[3]? Nothing in the Torah would indicate any misdoing, not only of the Tribe as a whole, but of any individual member of the tribe[4].

Actually, the Torah does allude to the choice of Aholiav raising some eyebrows. After the Torah first introduces Betzalel it introduces Aholiav with the words [Shemot 31:6] “Behold, with [Betzalel] I have placed Aholiav…” We have mentioned many times in these shiurim the rule espoused by the Torah Temima that states that the word “behold” always indicates that something surprising or unexpected has occurred. Rashi would explain that it was Aholiav’s relative lack of pedigree that was surprising. But perhaps there is more.

Am Yisrael were enslaved by the Egyptians for more than one hundred years. Many people do not understand how horrific it was to be a slave in the ancient world. A Roman or Egyptian slave was subhuman. He had the legal status of property. He was no better off than his master’s ox or dog. He could be torn from his family. He could be beaten or even killed at will. He had no possessions of his own, and those that were given to him by his master, such as clothing, could be stripped from him at a moment’s notice. He certainly had no money. If so, where did Am Yisrael get the money, the gold and the silver, to donate to the Mishkan? The answer to this question is clearly written in the Torah [Shemot 11:2]: Immediately before the exodus Hashem commands Am Yisrael to ask the Egyptians to “lend” them their money, their clothing, and the rest of their wealth, ostensibly in compensation for the wages they never received during their years as slaves. It was from this money that the Mishkan was eventually built. But wait a minute. Slavery should have been the great equalizer. All the Jews, except perhaps a select few, were starting from financial zero. How could the Rebbe speak about “rich” Jews and “poor” Jews?[5]

It is at this point that we return to the 921 bus. In the Book of Bemidbar the Torah describes at length the structure of the camp of Am Yisrael in the desert – how they encamped and how they travelled. The Torah uses a strange term to describe the camp of the Tribe of Dan [Bemidbar 10:25]: “the collector for all the other camps”. Rashi explains that “because the tribe of Dan was numerous they travelled last, and if anyone had lost anything, they would [find it and] return it to him.” The Tribe of Dan collected what was missing and returned it to their original owners. This job did not allow for initiative. They mopped up, returning whatever they happened to find lying of the ground.

Imagine that you have been a slave since the day you were born. Your parents were also slaves. Perhaps you have a great-grandmother who remembers life as a free person. Your master is your god. He controls your future and your present. Step out of line even once and you’re dead. Now imagine knocking upon this person’s door and asking him to give you all of his money, right here and right now, because you’re in a rush. Making this psychological change must have been incredibly difficult for most people. Some people could make the jump. They were forceful, and they took everything from their erstwhile masters. Other people just stood at the door sweating and stuttering. They made off with much less. The conclusion is inescapable: the wealth of a person who left Egypt was proportional to his ability to throw off the shackles of slavery and to behave like a free man, even in the face of his former master. The Tribe of Yehuda had a relatively easy time doing this. They were destined to rule, and their time had come. They became the affluent ones. The Tribe of Dan had a different personality. They were not instigators by nature. They were collectors. They took whatever came their way, but they did not go out of their way. Because they could not fully free themselves from slavery, because they could never fully sever their ties to their human masters, they were destined to become the destitute. The Torah warns us [Vayikra 25:55] “For the children of Israel are servants to Me; they are My servants, whom I took out of the land of Egypt.”. We must have no lord other than Hashem. The Tribe of Dan could never fully comply with this verse. This was their sin.

One might think that a person who cannot stand tall, a person who cannot unabashedly be a member of the Jewish faith, a person who cannot stand up for his G-d-given rights, should not be able to take part in building a sanctuary that would eventually house the Divine Presence. This is the great innovation of the Rebbe. Shaking off the bonds of our human rulers is not a prerequisite for accepting Hashem’s rule – it is a result of accepting Hashem’s rule. By bringing G-dliness into our lives, by understanding that there is something greater out there, we begin to understand that no human being can ever stand between us and our G-d. Our service to Hashem renders the service of other human beings irrelevant, truly setting us free.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5776

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Moshe Dov ben Malka, Yechiel ben Shprintza, Shaul Chaim ben Tziviya, and Yossef ben Bracha.

[1] Today the 921’s title as the slowest bus on earth has been usurped by the 947, running from Haifa to Jerusalem in just under a week. My children call it the “9-4-ever”.

[2] The Torah uses the word [Shemot 31:6] “ito” – “together [with Betzalel] was Aholiav”.

[3] This is problematic only for the Rebbe. This Rashi does not even mention the Tribe of Dan.

[4] Indeed, it can be shown that the Tribe of Dan is actually equal to the Tribe of Yehuda, as Moshe blesses the Tribe of Dan with the words [Devarim 33:22] “Dan is a lion cub”, the same words that Yaakov used to bless the Tribe of Yehuda.

[5] I asked this question to Rav Menachem Ganzburg over Shabbat, and he suggested that the rich Jews were the ones who took the wealth of the rich Egyptians, and that not all Jews left Egypt with the same amount of money. While Rav Menachem definitely has a better understanding of the Rebbe than I do, I’d like to suggest an alternate approach all the same.