Long Live the tribes!

Tribalism has a price, but it also has great advantages not only for the tribe itself but also for the other tribes and the entire nation.

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol ,

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
INN: Daniel Malichi

Each tribe and each group within the nation of Israel is unique. We must not lose our uniqueness by blending together as one indistinguishable whole, but let each tribe and group among Israel stand alone as its own force.

In his famous speech "The Four Tribes" a few years ago, President Rivlin expressed his vision of "The Combined Israelis". In this speech, the president argued that the current problem of “tribalism” in the State of Israel could be solved. However, in the Torah portion of the week, we see that the Torah in many places differentiates the nation according to their tribes and does not try to blend them all together.

Since the birth of the 12 tribes, the Torah expounds over and over again on the names of the tribes, such as when the nation arrived in Egypt, and when describing the breastplate of the Kohein HaGadol where the names of the tribes are immortalized for generations. In this week’s Torah portion, the Torah counts the nation of Israel according to their tribe, and also guides the nation to camp around the Mishkan - again according to their tribes. Furthermore, G-d commands us that even when traveling in the desert the nation walked according to their tribes. And later in the book of Bamidbar, the Torah informs the nation that the division of the land of Israel will be according to tribes.

The Gemara in Tractate Erchin says that in order for Shemita and Yuval to be able to be sanctified as written in the Torah, it is not enough that we know that the majority of the nation are living in the Land of Israel, but we need to count each person according to his tribe and confirm that each tribe is living in their assigned portion of Israel. Maimonides writes that in the days of Mashiach every person will know through Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Spirit) to which tribe they belong. Why is it important for the Torah to perpetuate tribalism? Why not try to create one blended nation without the separation into tribes? In the stories of the Bible - and even today we - see with our own eyes the price of tribalism, so why is it so important for the Torah that we maintain it?

It is true that tribalism has a price – that is clear - but it also has great advantages not only for the tribe itself but also for the other tribes and the entire nation. We see throughout history that when a group feels unique, it causes them to emphasize their uniqueness, and to elevate their powers from feeling into action to accomplish great things.

One of the best examples of this is the IDF, which is divided into units. Each unit carries the pride of their unit which makes them want to be more successful, which in turn makes the entire army stronger and better.

Each tribe and every group within the nation of Israel is unique. The tribe of Levi is not like the tribe of Yehudah, and the tribe of Dan is not like the tribe of Naftali. Both Yaakov, the father of the tribes, and Moshe Rabbeinu, the leader of the people of Israel, recognized the special powers of each tribe, and blessed each one with a blessing appropriate for them. Were we to create one big blend of all of the tribes, we may gain some peace, but we will only be harming ourselves as each tribe would not be able to recognize and use the special powers of its tribe to its full strength.

Our Torah is not satisfied with mediocrity. The role of the Torah is to guide the people of Israel to bring the full redemption to the world. Redemption will not come if everyone lives a mediocre life. The complete redemption will come only when we are using our total spiritual powers to do the work of G-d. These powers spring forth from our ancestral roots, and are directly related to the tribe from which we descend.

True, we are still far from the Torah’s vision of tribalism but let us not give up hope that that day will come.

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol is the head of the Barkai Rabbinical Organization and the rabbi of the Shaarei Yonah Menachem community in Modi'in