The Sara Litton z”l Monthly Emunah Essay
The month of Tevet is the heart of the winter and marks the beginning of the cold months referred to as the season or “Tekufah” of Tevet. It is often a time when people may feel weak, experience illnesses and absences from school, work, or social events. It’s a month of lower energy, long dark nights and may seem a time of דין, judgment. It is therefore not surprising that the tribe of Dan, whose name means judgment and is considered a lowly tribe, son of a maidservant — מִשֵּׁבֶט דָּן מִן הַיְרוּדִין שֶׁבַּשְּׁבָטִים (see Rashi to Shemot 35:34) — is associated with the month of Tevet (Yalkut Shimoni).
When faced with debilitation due to winter’s various maladies, we turn to Hashem praying for our good health and strength. Midrash Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 52 teaches that when someone sneezes you are meant to answer “Assuta,” (appropriately chosen as a name for two hospitals in Israel) as the word means “to health” or is akin to saying “li’briut.” There was a time when a sneeze was associated with death; An individual would sneeze and – נשמתו יוצאת מנחריו- his or her soul would depart from their body.
Yaakov Avinu “חידש חולי” inaugurated the idea of illness in the world (Bereishit Rabbah 65:9) when Yosef is informed: “Behold your father is ill”. It was new concept that someone could be sick at the end of their life, could sneeze as a sign of infirmity, and then subsequently recover and return to their full strength. The Mishna Berura (Orach Chaim 230:4:7) explains that the one who sneezes is meant to respond to the blessing of “assuta” – “to health” by saying:
“ברוך תהיה. לִישׁוּעָתְךָ קִוִּיתִי ה’ ”
“Blessed are you. For Your salvation do I hope, Hashem.” We return the blessing to the one who blessed us and then we turn our prayers to the One Above. This latter expression appropriately comes from the blessings given to Tevet’s tribe of Dan, by his father Yaakov in Parshat Vayechi (Breishit 49:19), always read during the month of Tevet. The tribe of Dan is associated with a sense of restoration and redemption with God’s help.
Just as Hashem sends salvation from what seem to be unlikely sources, so too the tribe of Dan has held an interesting place in our history as the source of several unassuming leaders. Chushim ben Dan, who was deaf, killed his uncle Esav (Sotah 13a) when he was attempting to halt the burial process of Yaakov Avinu at Me’arat Hamachpela. A later descendant of Dan, Shimshon was also a strong and memorable leader in the book of Shoftim. The tribe of Dan united with Yehuda in order to build the mishkan via Ohaliav from Dan and Betzalel from Yehuda (Shemot 35:30, 34). Likewise in the time of Shlomo HaMelech (from the tribe of Judah) he collaborated with Churam whose mother was from Dan (Divrei Hayamim 2, 2:14) to construct the Beit HaMikdash.
The future redemption as well, is meant to emerge from a union of these two tribes, with the father of Mashiach coming from Yehuda and the mother of Mashiach from Dan (Bereishit Rabba 97:9).
While Dan may seem like a lowly slithering snake (Bereishit 49:17), the tribe is also referred to as a lion cub- דָּן גּוּר אַרְיֵה (Devarim 33:22) which is an identical phrase found in the blessing bestowed upon the kingly tribe of Judah, as it says גּוּר אַרְיֵה יְהוּדָה (Bereishit 49:9).
The tribe of Dan represents seeing latent positivity in others through an עין טובה, the goodly eye (with the Hebrew letter ayin representing the month of Tevet according to Sefer Yetzirah). Dan is at the tail end of all of the Shevatim, known as the rear guard, מְאַסֵּף לְכׇל־הַמַּחֲנֹת (Bamidbar 10:25), but sees everyone with a good eye and helps bring together any object or individual lost or left behind (Yerushalmi, Eruvin, 85:1).
This seemingly unimportant position of Dan is revealed to be quite the contrary, a unique and special task, as God Himself is described as the rear guard – מְאַסִּפְכֶם אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל- for Israel (Yishayahu 52:12).
Tevet is marked by cold, illness, darkness, or harsh judgements; In every hindering circumstance, there is undiscovered potential for greatness. For Hashem loves “the noble as the impoverished, for all of them are the work of His hands,” (Iyov 34:19) and while “man sees what his eyes behold, Hashem sees into the heart” (Samuel 1, 16:7). We remind ourselves that in every human with his or her various limitations, there is often more than meets the eye.
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