“Dan will judge his people…” -Genesis 49:16
The more I learn about the tribe of Dan, the more I feel a love for, if not closeness and commonality with it. I suppose, part of it is the former law enforcement officer in me (I was a police officer for about a half a year, and a prison guard for about two and a half years in the US). When it comes to Dan, we could say that he’s the tribe who lives in what we call the “real world” the most–what we’d call the world of Din, “judgement”–the place or situation that seems to have the least connection with the Divine, at least on the surface. Indeed, I remember as a prison guard (OK, OK, the correct term is actually “Corrections Officer”), I was speaking to a fellow officer as we were watching over inmates in a hospital one day. Whether he was religious or not, I’m not sure, but he said something very interesting to me as we began talking about G-d. He said to me, “G-d doesn’t exist inside the penitentiary.” Obviously, I wouldn’t agree with him. Yet, I believe this dark statement of discouragement, if not hopelessness, gives a good illustration of what the “world of Din” really feels like… It is the place and/or situation where we potently feel the absence of G-d.
In traveling through the wilderness with it’s fellow tribes, the tribe of Dan was the one who brought up the rear. Thus in many ways, Dan was the tribe that had to “keep his head on a swivel.” He was the one who was always literally watching the Nation of Israel’s back, and bringing up the stragglers and the weak as the nation travelled through the wilderness. (Numbers 10:25, see also Rashi’s commentary on the verse.)
As a tribe who constantly had to be aware of it’s surroundings, using it’s eyes to be sure of no harm to come, the tribe of Dan was known for it’s tendency towards idolatry. In his efforts to see the evil that may be coming in the world, his eyes are also vulnerable to being effected by the impurity in this world.
In a world of darkness and doubt, it is so very hard to see the light of the spiritual.
I’d recommend that readers with weak constitutions would skip the next paragraph.
When I was planning on becoming a police officer, I met with a friend who told me about an incident he had to deal with one night. He had responded to a call in which a father had taken his own infant and burned it alive in an oven. A few hours later after that, he went home and had to bring himself to watch his own young son open up his Christmas presents.
Thus, much like the situation described above, Dan was expected by his father and the rest of the nation to be able to fight and deal with the thickest darkness, and still be able to take part in the high spirituality of the rest of the nation. To see the absolute worst of this world, and still be able to say with his hear and soul, “Sh’ma Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad…” (“Hear oh Israel, Hashem our G-d, Hashem is One…”) The acknowledgement and soulful internalizing that the world, and all that is in it has as it’s Source the Divine Ultimate Unity of Essence, the Divine Ultimate Good. That “The whole world is full of His glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)
In our lives, while most of us are not law enforcement, I believe that so often we find ourselves in a world of din. We are more aware of world events these days than perhaps any other time in history. We are haunted by horrific events in our history that strongly pull us towards believing, G-d forbid, that “G-d is dead,” and the only purpose in life is to “Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” In our modern era, reverting to shallow lusts and materialism has become an extremely potent, and worst of all extremely accessible temptation. To quote Rashi in his comment on Numbers 15:37-41, “The eyes see, the heart desires, and the body commits the sin.”
But we could go even deeper than that, to quote Rabbi Nachman, “Man’s mind is his very essence. Wherever your thoughts are, that is where you are–all of you. This is why it is so important to avoid all evil thoughts, otherwise, that is where your place will be.” (Likuay Moharan I, 21.) In either case, as the old saying goes, “the eyes are the window to the soul.” What we let into the soul through our eyes, whether it be pornography, excessive consumerism, or anything that pulls us away from our connection with Hashem, will effect our lives and our own mission on this earth of bringing good in.
In essence, this is the primary reason that I have titled this blog post “The spirit of Dan in Our Generation,” because more than any other generation in history, it seems that we live in a time in which the physical and visual is top priority. It is true, it’s always been a high priority for everyone to follow their animal instincts, but with the advent of the internet and Hollywood, it has become far more potent and extreme across the globe. With so much access to the physical which is seen, it becomes harder and harder to remain connected with the world of the unseen. I remember seeing an actual facebook post asking the question if we are today living in a “golden age of porn,” because now more than ever G-d forbid, access has never been so easy. Now more than ever, in our world of din, we forget that we are souls living in bodies. And we forget the magnitude of sexual purity, which in itself is an extremely deep concept that has all too often been oversimplified by both those who advocate for doing whatever they feel, and religious leaders who think that simply telling someone to “Stay in line” will keep them from falling.
Much like the tribe of Dan, in the world of din, it is hard to see past the physical and rise to the higher spiritual consciousness. This is essentially why Dan has such a difficult battle in his temptation towards idolatry–because idolatry in it’s essence is the deepest lustful desire for the physical.
One fellow officer once told me that “When you fight the monster long enough, you have to be careful that you don’t become the monster.” This more than any other of the twelve tribes, was an issue of inner conflict in the tribe of Dan. When you live and dedicate yourself to the physical world for so long, you forget that in your essence that you are a soulful and spiritual being.
Yet the tribe of Dan also has the strength to break through the darkness. Because when he connects to G-d and Torah and goodness despite the surrounding and overwhelming din, he rises to the point in which he becomes an unbreakable, unstoppable, spiritual powerhouse–perhaps even rising higher than his fellow tribes. As the Zohar says, “The greatest light is the light that comes from (And breaks through) the darkness.”
If this is true of Dan, it is also true of us. That even in spiritually turbulent times as these, we can still guard our eyes from our surroundings. Even when we feel that we are only physical bodies and nothing more, to remember the word of the Kotzker Rebbe who, commenting on Deuteronomy 6:6 stated,
“‘And these words are to be upon thy heart.’ The verse does not say ‘in thy heart.’ Because there are times when the heart is shut. But the words lie upon the heart, and then the heart opens in holy hours, they sink down deep into it.” (The Way of Man, Ten Rungs Compiled by Martin Buber.)
More than any other time in our generation, we are in need to sheer determination and loyalty to purity of the eyes. At it’s core, it was the ultimate mission of the tribe of Dan in ancient Israel. Today in the modern state of Israel as well as the rest of the world, it is also our mission. (Perhaps this requires giving up a smart phone. Perhaps it requires getting away from the internet altogether despite addictive FOMO. Perhaps it requires some inner work that says that my happiness is not based on what I acquire. So very often today, boundaries are a must!)
May we find our strength and cling to Hashem, despite the enticing darkness that attacks us.
May we remember and take inspiration from the tribe of Dan, who has fought where we have fought.