June 5, 2012
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #836, B'Haalos'cha, Dan, Parsha Thought

The question still remains: Of all the remaining tribes and camps, why was the Camp of Dan selected for the important role of restoring the losses of the Jewish people? True, it was the second most numerous camp, but nothing happens by chance. The very fact that its members were so prolific, and thus suited for this task, indicates that the Camp of Dan also possessed a spiritual advantage over the other camps.


When the Jewish nation journeyed in the desert, the Jews traveled in formation. In this week’s parsha, the Torah recounts how the twelve tribes were divided into four camps; the last of which was the Camp of Dan that comprised the tribes of Dan, Asher and Naftali.

When the Torah describes the order in which these four camps traveled, it states that the camp of Dan traveled last. It is described as “the collector for all the other camps.”

The Jerusalem Talmud, cited by Rashi, explains that since the Camp of Dan was very numerous they would serve as the rear guard. In that capacity, they would return objects that were lost by those who preceded them. This, then, is the meaning of the phrase “the collector for all the other camps.” Its great numbers allowed its members to spread around to all sides of the encampment so that no lost objects would escape their view.


Commentators raise the question as to why, specifically, the Camp of Dan was charged with this responsibility. If the reason was simply because they were numerous, the Camp of Yehudah was even more numerous and even better suited to restore all the lost objects of the other tribes.

The commentators answer that the Camp of Yehudah was the most distinguished of all the camps. It was therefore important that they would be the leaders. Therefore the task of returning lost objects fell to the second most populace camp.

The question still remains: Of all the remaining tribes and camps, why was the Camp of Dan selected for the important role of restoring the losses of the Jewish people? True, it was the second most numerous camp, but nothing happens by chance. The very fact that its members were so prolific, and thus suited for this task, indicates that the Camp of Dan also possessed a spiritual advantage over the other camps.


The question of why the tribe and Camp of Dan was selected for the role of restoring lost objects is even more compelling when we consider the Chassidic definition of “losses.”

When a person is unaware of their G-d given talents that could have been utilized to make the world a better place—that is a major loss. When a person “kills” time, those lost moments are far more serious a loss than the loss of material objects. When a Jew is unaware of his or her soul’s existence and its potential, he or she has suffered a major loss. And there can be no greater loss than a Jew who is oblivious to his or her Jewish heritage.


On a deeper level, the Rebbe explains (Likkutei Sichos vol. 1, Parshas VaYechi) the notion of loss by referring to a Talmudic statement (Chagiga 3a) regarding the definition of a shoteh, a person who is exempted from Mitzvah observance because he is mentally incompetent. The Talmud asks rhetorically: “Who is a shoteh? One who loses what is given to him.”

The Hebrew word for “what” is mah. In Kabbalistic terminology the term “mah-what” expresses the idea of utter self-abnegation. When Moses and Aaron were challenged by their critics, Moses responded: “and mah-what are we that you quarrel with us?” Moses employs the term “mah” to describe his utter insignificance.

This state of subordination to G-d that allows the person to be humble and submit to G-d’s will derives from the soul’s natural state of devotion to G-d. However, when we stray from G-d’s commandments and act in ways that are inconsistent with His will it is an indication that we have lost touch with the mah of our soul. In the words of the Talmud (Sota 3a): “No person transgresses unless a spirit of folly enters him.” A sin is a case of temporary insanity. The sinner has lost his or her soul’s subservience to G-d. The sinner has lost his or her mah.


Now, when we consider the deeper meaning of the losses suffered by the Jewish people in their journeys through their personal lives and through history it seems strange that the people who were charged with the responsibility to restore these losses were the lowliest of all the tribes! What was it about the Camp of Dan (that comprised the tribe of Dan—the lowliest of all tribes and the dominant force in this camp—and the tribes of Asher and Naftali) that empowered them to restore the spiritual losses of the Jewish people?

The answer to this question requires a better understanding of the spiritual character of the tribe of Dan.

When Jacob blesses his sons, the blessing he confers on Dan was: “Dan shall judge his people…” Dan’s quality was that he was able to judge people. This power of judgment can be found within every Jew. With this trait we can objectively examine our talents and abilities as well as those of others. Upon close scrutiny of these talents we begin to question ourselves: Have we utilized them to the fullest in a constructive manner? Have we allowed our soul the freedom to express itself? Have we utilized our time wisely? And have we allowed our soul’s natural state of self-abnegation to override our animal soul’s egotistic and selfish nature?


There is another thing about the Tribe of Dan that qualified it to be the restorers of the lost spiritual assets of the Jewish people. When we view the entirety of the Jewish people there are those tribes that parallel the head and therefore serve as our leaders. There are other tribes who occupy lesser positions of importance and are said to parallel the heart and the torso. The lowliest of the tribes, such as the ones included in the Camp of Dan, are likened to the feet of the Jewish body.

The “head” symbolizes the superior intellectual state of these tribes and the feet represent the state of what our Sages referred to as “kabbalas ol,” accepting the yoke. This state, while it may be regarded as inferior to an intellectual one, is actually essential to our lives as Jews.


The first thing a Jew must possess is the recognition that G-d is beyond us. And no matter how intelligent and advanced we may be, G-d transcends us and we cannot fathom Him. This “feet first” approach dictates that we surrender our own egos and understanding to G-d and follow His commandments as soldiers follow marching orders. Only by our self-effacing dedication to the will of G-d, symbolized by the tribe and Camp of Dan, can we keep from losing our mah and our soul’s other virtues.

To be sure, that is only the first step. It must be followed by involving our emotions and our intellect in the process.

Just as there was a Camp of Dan that followed all the other tribes and helped to restore their material and spiritual losses, so too, historically speaking, we are at the tail end of galus-exile. Our generation has the distinction of being the Camp of Dan of all preceding generations.


This realization should infuse us with feelings of trepidation and joy: Trepidation because it imposes an extraordinary responsibility on our generation—deemed by the Rebbe to be the last one of exile and the first one of Redemption—to restore all the imperfections of the past.

Yes, we have the cumulative goodness of the past that endows us with the capacity to restore all that has been lost by our forebears. But by the same token, this realization should generate tremendous excitement and joy, knowing that we—and no previous generation—were given that special responsibility. Indeed, in the words of the Talmud (Sota 13b): “A Mitzvah is credited to the one who finishes it.” We have the opportunity to finish the ultimate Mitzvah of transforming this world into one that has not lost its mah; its ability to experience G-d’s overarching presence in our lives.


It is fascinating that the phrase in Hebrew “m’asef l’chol ha’m’chanos” (“collectors of all the camps”) is numerically equivalent to the words “Beis Moshiach.” The implication here is that our role in creating a home for Moshiach is to be “the collectors” of all the losses from our own lives and the ones who help restore the losses of our fellow Jews.


Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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