Yehonatan Ben Israel
Yehonatan Ben Israel

Tribe of Shimon: The Lion’s Fury

(It should be noted that the above video clip is extremely violent)

“(The tribe of) Judah said to Shimon his brother, ‘Go up (In battle) with me for my portion and let us wage war against the Canaanite; then I too will go with you for your portion.’ So Shimon went with him. Judah attacked and Hashem delivered the Canaanite and the Perizzite into their hand; they struck them down at Bezek–ten thousand men.” —Judges 1:3-4

“And they (Shimon and Levy) said, ‘Should our sister be treated like a harlot?'”Genesis 34:31

“In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility: But when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage; then lend the eye a terrible aspect…” –Shakespeare’s Henry V

The first thing that comes to mind for any who encounter the tribe of Shimon is his zeal. Indeed, in many instances, we look at the tribe of Shimon and it’s almost like we are looking at a “hothead” who becomes easily provoked. The classic example that we see would be how Shimon comes to rescue his sister from her rapists and kidnappers in an extremely violent manner. Another aspect is that according to Rashi, it was Shimon and Levy who originally wanted to kill Joseph, when the brothers were discussing what to do with him (Rashi on Genesis 42:24).

Indeed, Ya’akov Avinu gives a strong rebuke of Shimon and Levy on his deathbed, stating that he does not want to be associated with them when they are together, pointing out that having them together, to paraphrase a metaphor, is like mixing fire and gasoline (Genesis 49:5-7.)

It seems that among the tribes, Shimon seems to be the most misunderstood, if not disliked, by people even today. Most rational people have a hard time associating with and/or accepting the zealous “hot-head.” When we look at someone like Shimon, it’s almost as if he is out of control. Nevertheless, just like any other tribe, Shimon is our brother. Indeed, every tribe of Israel is needed to complete the picture.  Thus the question we have to ask is, what does the energy of Shimon have that we need as a part of our nation? Can we even get a better idea of where this fantastic, powerful energy of raging fury comes from?

One of the things that I’ve personally found in my journey into Judaism is that all energies that we have aren’t meant to be suppressed, but rather channeled. Indeed, according to the Halacha, if someone has a love for seeing blood, then he should become an animal slaughterer, or even someone who performs the circumcision cut for the newborn Jewish boys. I can speak personally for my own journey in my personal flaws, that more than suppression being the answer to dealing with working on myself, that it has been channeling my inner demons in the right direction.

Thus, how does the energy of Shimon get channeled in the right direction?

I believe that we see this in the above verse in which the tribes of Judah and Shimon go out to conquer their tribal territories together in Judges 1:3-4. Originally we see that it was the tribe of Levy that partnered up with the tribe of Shimon, of which of course, Ya’akov Avinu disapproved. Now, we see something new. Shimon has a new “partner in crime”–Judah! Why Judah?

Judah is the tribe of kingship (“The scepter shall not depart from Judah…” Genesis 49:10) As the tribe of kingship, he is the defender of the nation; the “commander in chief” who leads the warriors out to fight the nation of Israel’s enemies. While a king is given the utmost prestige in the entire nation, his responsibility is enormous. It is he and his army which is the first line of defense when the nation of Israel faces the so very cold Machiavellian, demonic, and anti-Semitic world that so often wishes to attack us (And yes, today’s modern world is still very often Machiavellian, demonic, and anti-semitic). What kind of person/energy does a king need in order to go out to war against such darkness?

Shimon.

Indeed, we see that when the dust settled and the different tribes were established in their territories, that Shimon is found to be land-locked inside of the tribe of Judah. It is through the tribe of Judah that Shimon is able to channel his so very intense energy.

While we may find Shimon to be a disturbing, unpredictable, and even scary individual in his raging zeal for justice, it is exactly that energy that the tribe of Judah, and even now the modern nation of Israel so very often needs! Indeed, in the episode of the kidnapping and raping of Dinah in Genesis 34, it was that violent, wild, and discomforting energy of Shimon that brought Dinah back safe and sound. We might ask ourselves, had someone kidnapped and raped your daughter or sister, would you want a diplomat who may or may not negotiate a peaceful return, or a warrior who will go in without compromise and rip off the heads of the evil animals who took her?

Shimon, who heard that a pure, innocent, holy spark had been taken to be used and abused by evil unleashed his fury, not only to make things right, but to send a message to all others who would attempt such a thing that this would not be tolerated. In his inner soul, Shimon could not bear to allow such horrible evil on earth. And so he unleashed his rage with such an earth-shattering fury, that it made even the strongest tremble. No mercy, even when evil cries and ask for mercy, you smile and slaughter it. You don’t just teach those who embody evil a lesson with a proportionate reaction, you give them such a horrific experience that they wet the bed from having nightmares of ever coming into contact with the wrath of justice. You see to it that evil will never touch that holy spark again. 

And yet once again, we find the need to channel this fantastically strong zeal in the right direction. The fate of the tribe of Shimon was to be a tribe that culturally had the profession of teaching the young children of the nation, and truly there is no greater teacher than the one who is so very zealous and passionate for his/her cause. We see so often in our history, that some of our greatest teachers have been named “Shimon.” Shimon Hatzadik (Who is said to have met Alexander of Macedon), Shimon Bar Yochai. Shimon Ben Gamliel. Great leaders of the nation who channeled their zeal to such great levels in Torah, that the word “Scholarly” is too cheap of a term to use for such great rabbis.

And even so, we can see how this energy turns against ourselves when we channel this Shimon zeal and energy inside of ourselves in the wrong direction, causing disunity and “baseless hatred” like what happened in the destruction of the Second Temple, and the lack of respect that the students of Rebbe Akiva had for each other during the Bar Kochba Revolt, which led them to their end. According to the Ari Zal, each month of the Jewish calendar coincides with a tribe of the nation of Israel. How ironic then it is, that somehow when we enter into the month of Av, that it is the energy of the tribe of Shimon that encompasses our atmosphere.

Indeed, whether we like it or not, we’re all ingrained with our own strong energies and zeal from our hearts and souls. It is the tribe of Shimon who teaches us that it is how we channel our inner energies that determines whether those energies will turn into angels that bring goodness into the world, or demons that destroy.

May we all come to greater wisdom in knowing how to channel our inner zeal for the good.

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 Kiryat Arba/Hevron with his wife and daughter.
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