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Susan Barth
Advocate for Marriage Education in Israel

Dan – Help Us Recover our Lost Object of Marriage

Outside of Beit Shemesh is the little known and poorly maintained resting place of Dan, one of the sons of our patriarch Jacob, who is prominently featured in this week’s Torah portion of Vayechi (which culminates the Torah readings for the entire book of Bereshit).

Last week, I had the privilege of visiting Kever Dan as my own recognition that the tribes were about to leave Eretz Yisrael and go into exile in Egypt (as recorded in last week’s Torah portion of Vayigash). I also wanted to express gratitude to what the tribe of Dan did for Am Yisrael, which according to the commentator Rashi included the sacrifice of traveling last in order to return any lost property[1]. The Lubavitcher Rebbe z”l in his writings amplified on the role of the tribe of Dan, by stating that they exemplified the quality of fulfillment of Hashem’s laws with  complete obedience and put aside their own interests to help gather in the lost property of others. [2] In other words, Dan was a seeker of “lost objects.

Interesting Parallel to a Ketuba

The idea of “objects” can be extended to a number of subjects. An example of this extension likewise occurs in this Torah portion in the context of the “object” of the Ketuba and marriage. The topic came up in the portion when our patriarch wanted to bless the sons of Joseph. According to classic commentators, in order to confirm to Yaakov that his marriage was valid, he produced a ketuba which is the document or “object” issued for a full-fledged marriage.

The Significance of Objects – Namely Marriage

In reflection, I could not help but acknowledge the significance of “objects” and how we could bemoan their loss when that occurs. In the case of “lost material” objects, one can point to their importance just by observing the role of Dan. The fact that the recovery of a lost material object would necessitate the placement of a tribe at the rear during travels indicates how traumatic the loss would symbolize even at the time of our forefathers.

But the “loss of objects” can take the form of other non-material aspects of life. And I refer here to the lost object represented by the Ketuba and its potential emergence at Jewish weddings. With the increasing reduction in the number of Jewish marriages, the necessity for the production of ketubot has been “lost” and hence this should be a cause for alarm. There has been an increasing trend to marry later and in decreasing number and that is a direction that needs addressing in its implications for the future.

Lessons from our Ancestors 

As the book of Bereshit closes, a number of lessons can be learned from our ancestors on the topic of marriage and its endurance of our survival as a nation.

No bestseller could have as many riveting stories as the book of Genesis (known in Hebrew as Bereshit), with its emphasis on the life and times of our patriarchs and matriarchs. Each of our patriarchs and matriarchs, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzhak and Rivka, and Jacob and his two wives Rachel and Leah were subjected to just about every challenge imaginable – from nature’s harsh judgment of famine and starvation experienced by both Avraham and Sarah and Jacob and his sons which drove each to Egypt, to human cruelty in the form of the rape of Jacob and Leah’s daughter Dina – to the controversial sale of Joseph by his brothers – a pattern of trials and tribulations emerges that could break anyone.

And yet, at the end of these tests orchestrated under the banner of divine providence, our destiny as a people has been solidified and our foundation set as a nation that can withstand any challenge – no matter how potentially debilitating.

Hamalach Hagoel

The best example of this commitment to our survival are the verses cited by our forefather Jacob and which parents sing to their children and are recited in synagogues for blessing the children, known as “Hamalach Hagoel.”

“May the angel who has delivered me from all harm bless these lads. May they carry on my name and the names of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, and may they grow into a multitude​on earth.”

Rabbi Sholem B. Hecht, a Chabad Rabbi, wrote a beautiful explanation regarding this blessing in his article “Vayechi, A Blessing for Generations.”

The author asks what exactly was the blessing that Yaakov gave to Ephraim and to Menashe when he said, “May my name and the name of my father Avraham and Yitzchak be upon them?” The only blessing which seems to be spoken is the blessing of the multitude – Vayidgu l’rov.” (This is the opinion of the commentator Rashi.)

“The later commentaries do explain that Yaakov’s blessing, in speaking of his name and the name of his father and grandfather, meant that G‑d should bless these children with those forces, powers and characteristics which were personified and represented by the names of Yisroel (Israel), Yaakov (Jacob), Yitzchak (Isaac) and Avrohom. “

The author concludes the article by discussing the power of giving blessings to subsequent generations.

Blessing for the Ages – The Tie that Binds

As the book of Bereshit closes, a major takeaway is that G-d has given us in this powerful book the blueprint for our survival – building the family unit is imperative. And the family starts with the couple itself. For example, the blessing of Hamalach mentioned above was given over by Jacob to Joseph and his sons Menachem and Ephraim as a tribute to his beloved wife Rachel.

The Best Blessing of All

The Torah reading of Vayechi is actually the most poignant as the patriarch Jacob gives his farewell and blessing to each of the tribes and as such is laying the bricks and foundation for our people to take into exile in Egypt. Each son was given a unique blessing and prescription for survival. But the overarching message is that unity and harmony are the essential building blocks to be secured. And the starting point, as the entire book suggests, is the solid foundation shown within the context of marriage.

We as Jews have a moral obligation to promote the continuation of our people through marriage and hence to encourage the necessity for “objects” such as the ketuba so that we do not become the generation that “lost objects” and they become irretrievable.

Let the Dan tribe which was among the most populous retire from focusing on  lost objects and rejoice in finding of objects such as those identified with marriages and thereby add to the perpetuation of our people for generations to come.

Shabbat shalom

[1] Rashi to Bamidbar (10:25)

[2] Likutei Sichot volume 1, pp 104-105

About the Author
Susan Barth is founder and director of Israeli non profit Together in Happiness/B'Yachad B'Osher, promoting stronger, healthier marriages impacting Israeli society. A Project Management Professional (PMP) and businesswoman from the US, Susan sponsored and chaired the First International Conference on Marriage Education in Israel (attended by over 360 professionals) in Jerusalem in memory of her parents and launched I-PREP, an innovative marriage education curriculum. On November 8, 2017, Together in Happiness co-hosted with MK Yehudah Glick a historic Knesset seminar promoting government support for pre-marriage education
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