[In memory of Tzvi Dov ben Chaim Pesach (Herb Sunshine), a proud Jew who was uncompromisingly dedicated to Torah, to the Jewish nation and to Eretz Yisrael, whose neshamah returned to Gan Eden on Wednesday 8th Tevet, 11th December. I was honoured to have been a close friend of his for a quarter of a century. Yehi zichro baruch.]
“Jacob called to his sons and said: Assemble, and I will tell you that which will befall you in the end of days. Gather together and hearken, O sons of Jacob – hearken to Israel your father” (Genesis 49:1-2).
As Jacob lay on his death-bed, he called his twelve sons to him to reveal the distant future – the end of the nation – to them. “He spoke to them prophesying the future. And those who say that these are blessings are mistaken, because at the end [of this section, the Torah] says ‘and he blessed them’ (v.28); yet where are Reuben’s and Simeon’s and Levi’s blessings? Rather, all that their father said to them were prophecies; afterwards he blessed them, but the Torah does not mention the blessings” (Ibn Ezra on verse 1).
In these prophecies Jacob had initially intended to tell his sons precise details of the final redemption: “Jacob called to his sons and said to them: Purify yourselves of all spiritual impurities, and I will show you sealed-up secrets and hidden mysteries of the final times, and the reward that will be give to the tzaddikim and the punishment of the wicked, and the delights of Eden. The dozen tribes of Israel gathered around the golden bed upon which he lay; and when the glory of Hashem’s Shekhinah was revealed, the final time of the future King Mashiach was hidden from him. So he said: Come, and I will tell you that which will befall you in the end of days” (Targum Yonatan to verse 1).
Or, in the terse comment of Rashi, quoting Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish (Reish Lakish) in Pesachim 56a: “He wanted to reveal to them the final time, but the Shekhinah (Heavenly Presence) abruptly departed from him, so he began to speak of other matters”.
So Jacob, on his death-bed, gave each of his twelve sons a prophecy of what was awaiting their progeny, the Twelve Tribes of Israel. And while most of these prophecies are parochial (in the sense of relating solely to the specific Tribe to which they are addressed), there is one exception.
“Dan”, Jacob prophesises, “will judge his nation, the Tribes of Israel will be as one. May Dan be a snake along the way, a viper along the path, which bites the heels of the horse so its rider falls backwards” (Genesis 49:16-17). And then, uniquely among these prophecies, Jacob gives voice to a prayer: “For Your salvation I have hoped, O Hashem” (verse 18).
Clearly, salvation is for the entire nation of Israel, all twelve Tribes, not only for the Tribe of Dan. Yet this prayer, “For Your salvation I have hoped, O Hashem”, is either a part of Jacob’s prophecy for Dan’s future or its epilogue.
It is of course significant that in this series of prophecies, it is the Tribe of Dan which unites the twelve Tribes of Israel: “Dan will judge his nation, the Tribes of Israel will be as one”. This is the literal translation of “Dan yadin ammo…”, though Targum Onkelos, Targum Yonatan, Rashi, Rashbam and Ramban all understand “yadin” to mean “will avenge” in this context: “Dan will avenge his nation – all the tribes of Israel as one”. The entire nation will yet be united, any attack on any one Tribe will constitute an attack on the entire nation, and Dan will accept the challenge of avenging any such attack.
The Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michael Weiser, Volhynia, Poland, and Romania, 1809-1879) writes: “Dan was the gatherer [i.e. the rearguard] of all the camps , and the children of Gad went at the head of all the camps. Dan had to defend them from the enemies who would approach from behind the camp and attack all the weakest ones; so [Jacob] said that Dan would take up their cause and fight the nation’s battles like all the Tribes, even though they went last”.
A picture emerges of Dan as a unifier, bringing the twelve Tribes together as a single nation, making all the Tribes aware of their mutual responsibility for one another.
I suggest that the Torah points to this attribute of Dan very subtly, with an exquisite detail embodied in the text. In the word ikvei (“the heels of”, in the phrase “…a viper along the path, which bites the heels of the horse…”), there is a peculiarity: there is a dagesh (a dot) in the letter kuf, even though there is no grammatical reason for this.
There are just three other places in the Torah where a kuf has a dagesh for no grammatical reason. The first is ten verses earlier, in Jacob’s prophecy to Judah: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah nor a law-interpreter from among his descendants, until Shiloh shall come, and his will be and assemblage of nations” (Genesis 49:10). Here, in the word “yik’hat” (“assemblage”), the kuf has an unwarranted dagesh.
The next case is the kuf in the word Mikdash (“Sanctuary”), in the Song at the Red Sea: “You will bring them and implant them on the Mountain of Your Inheritance, the foundation of Your dwelling-place that You have wrought, O Hashem – the Sanctuary, my Lord, that Your hands established” (Exodus 15:17).
And the final time is the kuf in the word ke’arotav (“its dishes”), in describing the accoutrements of the Tabernacle in the desert: “You will make its dishes and its spoons…” (Exodus 25:29).
On the word Mikdash (“Sanctuary”) in the Song at the Red Sea (Exodus 15:17), the Minchat Shai (a running commentary on the Massorah) says simply: “The kuf has a dagesh to glorify it”.
Extrapolating from the Minchat Shai’s comment, just as the dagesh in the kuf in the word Mikdash (“Sanctuary”) glorifies it, so too does each unwarranted dagesh in each kuf in the Torah.
In Genesis 49:10, the dagesh in the kuf in the word “yik’hat” (“assemblage”) glorifies Judah’s kingship. In Exodus 15:17, the dagesh in the kuf in the word Mikdash (“the Sanctuary”) glorifies the Sanctuary. In Exodus 25:29, the kuf in the word ke’arotav (“its dishes”) glorifies the accoutrements of the Tabernacle in the desert.
So returning to the prophecy concerning Dan, the dagesh in the kuf in the word ikvei (“the heels of”) glorifies Dan’s task of uniting the nation.
The Book of Psalms parallels the Torah: “Moshe gave [Israel] the Five Books of the Torah, and corresponding to them King David gave them the Book of Psalms which comprises five Books” (Midrash Shocher Tov 1, s.v. Ashrei). And in the Book of Psalms there is just one kuf which has an unwarranted dagesh – the kuf in the word “bikrotekha” (“visit you”): “Daughters of kings visit you, the queen stands erect at your right hand in the golden jewellery of Ophir” (Psalms 45:10).
Psalm 45 is a paean of praise either to the Sages of the Sanhedrin (Targum, Rashi) or to the Mashiach (Radak). Commenting on verse 10, both Rashi and Radak note the unwarranted dagesh in the kuf in the word “bikrotekha”, and explain that this dagesh suggests that the word “bikrotekha” can be derived not only from the root “bikur” (“visit”), but also from the root “yoker” (“glory”): not just that “daughters of kings visit you”, but also that “daughters of kings glorify you”.
As with the four times that the Torah adds an unwarranted dagesh into a kuf for glorification, so too the Book of Psalms adds this unwarranted dagesh into a kuf for glorification. Whether referring to Torah sages or to the King Mashiach, the dagesh in the kuf glorifies the leaders of the nation.
And the Tribe of Dan glorifies Israel by uniting them, and unites them by bringing true justice to the nation and by avenging them on their enemies who attack them. And so it is in this context that, uniquely in all Jacob’s prophecies of the nation’s future, he infuses the prayer: “For Your salvation I have hoped, O Hashem”.