Yehonatan Ben Israel

The Spirit of Dan in our generation Pt. 3

“Dan will be a serpent on the highway…” -Genesis 49:17

 “Dan is a lion cub, leaping forth from the Bashan.” -Deuteronomy 33:22

“Fell into the light, thrown from the abyss. Screamed so many night, not going out like this! I shut every door but the right one, I fought with the devil and he won. There’s got to be more, cuz’ life is insane. Gotta turn this around and find the purpose for pain. There’s so much to lose, yeah. There’s so much at stake. Gotta turn this around and find the purpose for pain…”-Scott Stapp (From the Album Space Between the Shadows)

I remember once, when I was working at the penitentiary, I asked my captain why he had decided to become a corrections officer. To be honest, I can’t really remember the reason he gave for why he had stayed on the job for about thirty years, but I do remember one thing that he told me. His words that I remember were, “You know I’m a church-going man. But going back and forth between the penitentiary and the church is like going back and forth between heaven and hell.” When he said this, I must have had a particular look on my face when he said this, because he looked at me and nodded his head and said, “You already know… you already know…”

Even though by Israeli Rabbanut (Today as well as my own) standards I was not Jewish at the time, I was making an effort to get to work to pray the Conservative movement’s version of morning prayer at the synagogue whenever I could once I got off of work in the morning. And yet, to this day I have very strong memories of feeling such a pull to just go home after being in a prison all night, that it was almost physically hard at times to turn my steering wheel to take the ramp into the neighborhood of the synagogue. What my captain said has stuck with me for all these years because it was so potent. I didn’t want to turn onto that ramp to go pray because as heavenly as prayer can be, after spending a night in “hell,” I just wanted to go home. I was too used to hell to even care about heaven.

The reason I write this is because I want to bring up the topic and elaborate a little more on the tribe of Dan’s inner conflict, and therefore ours. In Part 1 of The Spirit of Dan in Our Generation, I wrote that Dan lived in the world of Din (Judgement/Distance from Hashem), and still had to maintain his spirituality to keep up with the rest of the Nation of Israel.

Interestingly enough, when we look at where the tribe of Dan was located on the map in the ancient land of Israel, we find that his territory had very beautiful and fertile land. Contrast this with the tribes of Yehudah and Shim’on who had a large chunk of territory situated in the Negev desert, it brings one to ask, if Dan’s tribe is the tribe of  Din, exactly what does this mean when it comes to his having so much wealth?

The answer strikes us hard, especially in our generation. Dan’s nature was that of  din for sure. Yet, in his vast material world, he was a tribe that longed for spiritualism and connection with his Creator. There are darker exiles in our lives than just what we lack materially. Wealth and comfort can only go so far before we begin to ask, “What’s it all for?” Hell is not necessarily made of fire. It can be made of a world of superficiality and purposeless that will leave us desperate for something deeper–and often times that world is dark indeed.

All it has to be is a world of detachment from our Creator, loneliness, discouragement, depression, addiction, confusion. When we fall into our own spiritual darkness, or when we even encounter our own failure, often times it has a way of getting to us. This may sound off topic, but in reality this is exactly what the tribe of Dan’s battle was–a battle against the physical disconnect that he so potently felt in his life. As previously noted in the two previous Tribe of Dan blogs, Dan’s greatest battle was against the temptation of idolatry–the temptation of the eyes. The need for an image outside of the Great Creator. In essence, this is one of the reasons that Ya’akov Avinu called him a snake on the highway–because of his weakness in affiliation with the serpent, a representation of the dark forces. Yet if he were to take this weakness and use it against the very dark forces he was so tempted to join….

In the Breslover book Restore My Soul, Rebbe Nachman empathetically writes about what one’s mission is after a fall/disconnect:

“There are many ways you can fall. Indeed, at times there are people who go into a truly appalling decline… Such people are racked with doubts and filled with bizarre and loathsome thoughts. They are beset by their confusion. Their hearts palpitate…It may seem to such people that they will never find God. But there is hope–if only they will steel themselves to search for God and beg for help. They must cry out: ‘Where is the place of His glory?’ Indeed, the further you think you are from God, the more you must force yourself to search and hunt for Him: ‘Where is the place of His glory?’ Through this alone you will come to ascend to the very greatest heights. You will be worthy of rising to the level of ‘Where?’–‘Where is the place of His glory?’ This is the level of the most exalted holiness.

“It is the essence of return the return to God that you should search at all times and beg, ‘Where is the place of His glory?’ Then the fall itself is transformed into a great ascent. The whole purpose of the fall is revealed as being solely for the sake of ascent, as all of our sages have explained in our sacred writings. Search into this idea and understand it well.” (Restore My Soul, Lekutey Moharan 29. Indeed, just from my own limited experience I would encourage anyone who is beset by discouragement to read this book. It is full of encouragement.)

As one Rav whose class I attended put it, while Ya’akov Avinu said of Dan that was a snake, Moshe Rabbeinu called him a lion leaping up to the Bashan (The Golan Heights–the highest hills in Israeli territory. Thus we can see that though Dan may be the spiritually weakest tribe, there is something extremely special about him. When he rises,  he rises with a fury and awesomeness that very few can rival.  Just as we saw in the excerpt above from Rebbe Nachman, a great fall can lead to great ascent if we can find it within ourselves, if we can call our to Hashem. The prophet Jeremiah, in sending his letter to the exiles in captivity in Babylon, spoke the words of Hashem to the people in saying that “You will search for Me and you will find Me if you search for Me with all of your hearts.” (Jer. 29:13. The second world for search is the modern Hebrew word for “Demand,” which implies the necessity to be driven and determined in our search…)

What are the effects that the tribe of Dan has on the world when he rises? More importantly, what about us? What do we have to do with the tribe of Dan in this sense?

I would like to submit that this is the reason that I have started this blog on the tribe of Dan in the first place. Though we have great wealth these days, somehow, we can all see that we live in a world full of doubt–if not over spirituality then definitely over communal religion. Yet, we all thirst for it, otherwise, so many of us wouldn’t be taking these doubts so personally. “Behold, the days are coming–the word of the Lord, Hashem Elokim–when I will send a hunger into the land; not a hunger for bread nor a thirst for water, but to hear the words of Hashem.” (Amos 8:11)

Personally I believe that this is one of the times if not the time in which Amos was talking about. We live in a world of extremely vast materialism, much like the tribe of Dan. Yet like Dan, we yearn for more. I believe that we in our generation are extremely similar to the tribe of Dan.  This is why I posted the video and the quote from the song Purpose for Pain. Because we have all spiritually fallen, yet it is through making the effort–how ever little starting out–to begin making the connection again. To let G-d into our lives, to “Search His face always…” (Psalm 105:4), Meaning no matter how dark the situation, no matter how bleak, no matter how disgusting or disparaging or discouraging, we ask the question that Rebbe Nachman encourages us to ask: Where is G-d in this? Because there’s got to be more, because without G-dly higher purpose, life is insane. Gotta turn this around, and find G-d’s purpose for my pain. Hence the question can be posed of us as well as the tribe of Dan. What happens when the tribe of Dan, as well as our generations’ actions become aimed at the spiritual? The tribe of Dan becomes a lion, and b’ezrat Hashem so do we. What does that mean?

It means we sanctify that which is secular. We fill the spiritual void, giving all of life new and great meaning and connection to the Creator. Igniting a spiritual revolution in intimate connection with the Creator. 

To illustrate the potent situation that we live in, the Chabad Rebbe was quoted as saying,

“They have banished G-d into exile. They have decreed that He is too holy, too transcendent to belong in our world. They have determined He does not belong in the ordinary, in the daily run of things. And so they have driven Him out of His garden, to the realm of prayer and meditation, to the sanctuaries and the secluded places of hermits. They have sentenced the Creator to exile and His creation they have locked in a dark, cold prison. And He pleads, ‘Let me come back to my garden, to the place in which I found delight when it all began.'”

The tribe of Dan lives in this physical world. His greatest asset, as well as ours, is to let G-d back into the physical; into the informal. This is why Rebbe Nachman and other rabbis have so avidly encouraged “hitbodedut,” to go to a private place and to talk to G-d in our own words. To tell Him how we truly feel from our deepest gut and our strongest yearning. Because when we draw G-d closer into the informal, we draw closer to creating an atmosphere in which “I will seal a covenant of peace among them; it will be an eternal covenant with them; and I will emplace them and increase them, and I will place My Sanctuary  among them forever. My dwelling place will be among them; I will be a God to them and they shall be a nation to me. Then the nations will know that I am Hashem who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary will be among the forever.” (Ezekiel 37:26-28)

“The Baal Shem Tov teaches that no encounter with a being or a thing in the course of our life lacks a hidden significance. The people we live or meet with, the animals that help us with our farmwork, the soil we till, the materials we shape, the tools we use, they all contain a mysterious spiritual substance which depends on us for helping it towards its pure form, its perfection. If we neglect this spiritual substance sent across our path, if we think only in terms of momentary purposes, without developing a genuine relationship to the beings and things in whose life we ought to take part, as they are in ours, then we shall ourselves be debarred from true, fulfilled existence. It is my conviction that this is essentially true. The highest culture of the soul remains barren unless, day by day, waters of life pour forth into the soul from those little encounters to which we give their due; the most formidable power is intrinsically powerlessness unless it maintains a secret covenant with these contacts, both humble and helpful, with strange, and yet near, being.” (Martin Buber, The Way of Man, Chapter 6.)

This is why Dan, though a snake, has the ability to rise to the strength of a lion. It is why according to the Midrash, that Ya’akov Avinu, thought that Samson was truly the Mashiach bringing the final redemption as he was blessing Dan in Genesis 49:16-18. (Though on the surface Samson seems to be a controversial figure to say the least, if we dig deeper about him we would find amazing and fascinating qualities that all of us could only wish for.)

This is also why we, though we in our materialism and skepticism feel so disconnected, have the ability to rise like lions and bring outstanding G-dliness into the world.

May we open up our hearts and minds to the greatness of G-d’s creation, and find our love and way back to Him.

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 Israeli Rabbanut at Machon Meir. He lives in Northern Israel with his wife, daughter, and son.