As Jacob lay on his death-bed he called his twelve sons to him to reveal the distant future – the ultimate destiny of the nation – to them.
The Torah introduces this episode with the words, “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).
The Ibn Ezra (Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, Spain, Morocco, England, Israel, and France, 1092-1167), commenting on verse 1, analyses:
“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”.
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, Genesis 49:1).
Or, in the terse comment of Rashi: “He wanted to reveal to them the final time but the Shekhinah abruptly departed from him, so he began to speak of other matters” (commentary ad loc., quoting Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish [Reish Lakish] in Pesachim 56a).
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 דָּן יָדִין עַמּוֹ, though Targum Onkelos, Targum Yonatan, Rashi, Rashbam and Ramban all understand יָדִין 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 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 עִקְּבֵי, 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 ק, even though there is no grammatical reason for this.
There are just three other places in the Torah where a ק 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 an assemblage of nations” (Genesis 49:10). Here, in the word יִקְּהַת (assemblage), the ק has an unwarranted dagesh.
The next case is the ק in the word מִקְּדָשׁ (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 ק in the word קְּעָרֹתָיו (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 מִקְּדָשׁ in the Song at the Red Sea (Exodus 15:17), the Minchat Shai says simply: “The ק has a dagesh to glorify it”.
Extrapolating from the Minchat Shai’s comment, just as the dagesh in the ק in the word מִקְּדָשׁ glorifies it, so too does each unwarranted dagesh in each ק in the Torah.
In Genesis 49:10, the dagesh in the ק in the word יִקְּהַת (assemblage) glorifies Judah’s kingship. In Exodus 15:17, the dagesh in the ק in the word מִקְּדָשׁ (Sanctuary) glorifies the Sanctuary. In Exodus 25:29, the ק in the word קְּעָרֹתָיו (its dishes) glorifies the accoutrements of the Tabernacle in the desert.
So returning to the prophecy concerning Dan, the dagesh in the ק in the word עִקְּבֵי (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 Shoher Tov 1, s.v. אשרי). And in the Book of Psalms there is just one ק which has an unwarranted dagesh – the ק in the word בִּיקְּרוֹתֶיךָ, 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 (per Targum and Rashi), or to the Mashiach (per the Radak). Commenting on verse 10, both Rashi and Radak note the unwarranted dagesh in the ק in the word בִּיקְּרוֹתֶיךָ, and explain that this dagesh suggests that the word בִּיקְּרוֹתֶיךָ can be derived not only from the root בקר (visit), but also from the root יקר (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 ק for glorification, so too the Book of Psalms adds this unwarranted dagesh into a ק for glorification. Whether referring to Torah sages or to the King Mashiach, the dagesh in the ק 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”.