The Spirit of Dan in Our Generation Pt. 2

“Dan will judge his people, the tribes of Israel will be united as one…” -Genesis 49:16

I look out the plane as it’s coming towards Ben Gurion Airport and I see the dark night out the window. It’s been a long flight, and it’s been tiring. I look out the window in the dark night as we fly over the Mediterranean. And then suddenly, as a the minutes pass, I suddenly see the lights of the coast of our ancestral home. Almost as if they are reaching out to me in the darkness. Like someone reaching out their hands to me and I almost feel myself reaching back, knowing I’m coming home…

As I write these words even now, I find it a beautiful concept that the modern city of Tel Aviv, the location of Ben Gurion Airport, is located within the ancient boundaries of the tribe of Dan. 

In the 49th chapter of Genesis we read of Jacob gathering all 12 of his sons around him to give them his blessings in accordance with their character traits. In writing these blogs about Dan, I think it’s worth asking, what kind of relationship did Jacob have with Dan? We all know that Jacob saw Joseph as the highest standing of all of the brothers, but Jacob was still a father to all twelve of these sons of his.

What was the relationship between Jacob and Dan like? What do they have in common?

In a book of quotes from the Chabad Rebbe, the Rebbe makes takes a beautiful approach to the worldview of Jacob:

“Each path contains what the other is missing: When G-dliness is everything (The outlook of Abraham), even the darkness is included. But the world is left unchanged, because there is no world–only G-dliness.

“When everything is G-dliness (The outlook of Isaac), you transform the world by digging away the darkness to find the sparks of G-dliness. But the darkness remains piled up outside.

“The path of Jacob is to find That Which is Everything within each thing, and to bring That Which is Beyond All Things to dwell within each thing. Jacob knows a G-d who is at once both beyond and within.

“To Jacob, darkness is also light.” (Bringing Heaven Down to Eath Vol. 1, Quote 190.)

Indeed, when we look at the Gemara in Brachot 26B concerning the prayer times and how they were established, we find that Abraham founded Shacharit–morning prayer, and Isaac founded Mincha–afternoon prayer, Jacob founded Arvit (Or Ma’ariv)–evening prayer–the time of darkness. Indeed, it seems that most of the groundbreaking spiritual events in Jacob’s life happened at night time, a time in which according to the work The Way of God, by the Ramchal, “The Highest wisdom ordained that the night should be a time when the Forces of evil have the authority to proliferate in all their vehicles and cause their offshoots in the world to move about freely…” (The Way of God, Part 4, Chapter 6. While one could write books upon the concept of “evil coming out at night, it suffices for us to know that night time is a time both literally and figuratively a “darker time” in our regular 24-hour period.)

Considering Jacob’s spirituality comes from seeing G-d in the darkness of our lives, it would be no wonder that he has a special, albeit subtle relationship with his son Dan, the tribe who works in the “real world,” the world of Din. Indeed, I imagine Dan among his brothers being very quiet and reserved, yet perhaps it doesn’t go so far to say that whenever Dan was around Jacob, that perhaps Father Jacob smiled a little more as he saw his son’s potential, and even their commonality of seeing the good even in dark places.

In Tamara Weissman’s book Tribal Lands, her analysis of the tribe of Dan is intriguing. She identifies Dan as having the role of me’asef–one who “gathers up” the remnants of those who are slower in the Israelite camp as the tribe brings up the rear:

“A me’asef herded the stragglers and the forgotten elements, encouraged them to remain in the fold, said to them, ‘I’m with you, brother, in your lonliness, and yet I’m still part of this nation, and you should be too.’ The me’asef absorbed everything, and left no one behind… The one who most easily related to the ones who dawdled on the fringes, not really apart of things.

“This role of the me’asef was a lonely one. They did not share the easy camaraderie of the group, and instead hovered on the fringes, dutifully serving what was often an unappreciative nation by bringing up the rear.” (Tribal Lands, Chapter 8. While there is much about what Weissman describes about Dan that I very much love, I also cannot fully agree with her assessment of Dan’s strong temptation for idolatry.)

As I wrote about in Part 1 of The Spirit of Dan in Our Generation, Dan essentially lived in the world of din–“judgement”–a dark and ominous place where it was so very hard to see G-d. One might think that such a tribe as this, with it’s dark temptations and tough outlook on the world might not be a very good candidate for a compassionate gatherer of the people, but in reality, the truth is that his role as me’asef and one who lives in the world of din don’t actually contradict each other, indeed, they go hand in hand! To live in the world of din in reality gives the tribe of Dan an amazing potential for compassion for those around him. Indeed, to have Dan’s talent at camaraderie requires someone who knows what the darkness is like. “I am with you brother.” Indeed, perhaps this could be the greatest form of chesed (“Lovingkindness”)–to look into the darkness and see the good.

How does this relate to us?

Because in my humble opinion, I believe that more than any other tribe of ancient Israel, that we are most like the tribe of Dan. As stated in the previous blog, our problems and rectifications seem to be in line with Dan’s–the issue of guarding the eyes, and to truly know that there is more than what the physical eye can see. Because in reality, the world of din is what we make it. In our generation, physical prosperity and comfort is better than it’s ever been in the entire history of mankind. With all of these comforts, and thus the ever increasing need for physical comfort, we forget that we are souls within bodies. As we forget this, we also forget about our Jewish brothers and sisters. And yet to rise up like Dan despite the darkness, to try to see G-d within our brothers and sisters, we usher in redemption.

Rav Kook once stated that “If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love–ahavat chinam.” (Orot HaKodesh, vol. III, pg. 324.)

This is not to say that we throw away our moral boundaries, but it is to say that we make an extra attempt to see G-d in the people around us wherever we go, and that also includes within ourselves and our relationship with G-d. While it is so easy to write off anyone as being “too far-gone,” or too difficult to handle, the spirit of Dan Ben-Ya’akov beckons us to look harder. Many times I have met with both religious and secular people who say that they just want to make a difference in the world. Yet, when I bring up the idea of taking on being a prison counselor or even part-time volunteer, so often the response is “It’s not for me.” Perhaps it’s not.

And yet, the spirit of Dan beckons us to look in the dirtiest and hardest of places, where people feel the most rejected, the most alone, and asks us to say, “I am with you brother.”

If someone asks for charity on the streets in Jerusalem, it’s fine to refuse, but perhaps smile and talk to them for a moment. Ask them about their life. Money helps people materially, respect and kindness lifts their beaten-down souls.

Indeed, living in the world of din is not easy for any of us. Perhaps many of us don’t know what it’s like to have a hard life, but we can reach out a hand. And perhaps sometimes even it’s not the materially poor who need help, but those are well off materially but are broke in their souls. The truth is, when it comes to brokenness, this world has so many examples. Doing such things might change us. It might make us what others might see as “less normal.” It may even put us in a lonely position when we begin to relate more to the outcast than to those who suffer under the illusion that they have their life completely together. And yet, it is ahavat chinam, “basless love” that brings in our ultimate redemption. Despite our disagreements, we the Jewish people are all one nation. One team.

Perhaps we can ask ourselves, what darkness do I see around me that I can turn to light?

In seeing the example of Dan, sometimes the greatest thing we can do for others is to be a friend… even for those in dark places.

Let’s make the baseless love happen.

This is the spirit of Dan in our generation. This is who we are.

About the Author
Yehonatan was born in Dover, Tennessee, US. After converting to Judaism under the conservative movement, he made Aliyah, and converted again in Jerusalem under the Rabbanut at Machon Meir. He works in the City of David, and lives in Jerusalem with his wife and daughter.