How do we know the difference between good and bad judgment? How do we know the choices we make are the right ones? What do we allow to influence us? What we do allow to blur our vision? What do we use to clear our eyes, our hearts, and our minds to turn back to the right path? Where do we cross the line between right and wrong, and do the ends justify the means? These are the questions that the Tribe of Dan, the tribe associated with the month of Tevet (טֵבֵת), asks us.
Dan (דָּן) is the son of Jacob and Rachel, through her handmaiden Bilhah. He is the full brother of Naphtali. Some midrash say that Dan is the one who suggested dipping Joseph’s coat in the blood of a goat (the astrological symbol of Tevet – גדי) because he hated him for giving “evil” reports to Jacob about the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah. (Jewish Encyclopedia) Dan is represented, historically, by two different emblems. He, and the tribe, are represented by scales because the name “dan” means judgement. He, and the tribe, are also represented by a snake or serpent because of the blessing from Jacob in Genesis 49:17, which actually contains both the snake and judgment (49:16) themes.
Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a horned snake in the path, that biteth the horse’s heels, so that his rider falleth backward.
דָּן, יָדִין עַמּוֹ–כְּאַחַד, שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.יְהִי-דָן נָחָשׁ עֲלֵי-דֶרֶךְ, שְׁפִיפֹן עֲלֵי-אֹרַח–הַנֹּשֵׁךְ, עִקְּבֵי-סוּס, וַיִּפֹּל רֹכְבוֹ, אָחוֹרGenesis 49:17
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When we explore the Tribe of Dan through history and legend we see a mixed story. We see Dan associated with the serpent. We see Oholiab, one of the two master craftsman of the wilderness tabernacle (Exodus 31:6-11). We see Huram-Abi, the master craftsman of Solomon’s Temple (2 Chronicles 2:12-13 & 4:11-22). We see Sampson, who is a hugely flawed hero. We see the Northern Tribes that innovated, but then according to the prophets lapsed into idolatry.
But our challenge is to see with clear eyes (עֵינַיִם), not to be turned by the evil eye (עַיִן רָעָה) towards anger (זַעַף). Is the snake (נָחָשׁ) evil and inherently bad? Or is the snake set in our path to offer us information and see what choices we make with it? Is the snake’s role to see what kind of judgement we exercise? Yes, there was a snake in Eden, but Moses is also instructed by G!d(dess) to create a brass/bronze snake (נְחַשׁ נְחֹשֶׁת) to heal the people in the wilderness from the fiery serpent angels (הַנְּחָשִׁים הַשְּׂרָפִים) set upon them by G!d(dess). (Numbers 21:6-9) Any Israelite who looked upon the brass serpent Moses created were healed.
“The month of Tevet, the month of the tribe of Dan, relates to the growing-up process, from a state of immaturity to a state of maturity. Immaturity is characterized by the “evil eye,” while maturity is characterized by the “good eye.” The tribe of Dan represents the initial state of immaturity in the soul that “grows-up” during the month of Tevet. Dan means “to judge.” Initially, he judges reality and others critically, with severe judgment (the “evil eye”). This is the nature of one who is spiritually immature. Dan is likened to a snake, who bites with the venom of anger. The “evil eye” is the eye of the snake. The rectification of Dan is his engaging in the battle of holy anger against evil anger. Our sages teach us that only one from the soul-root of Dan can spontaneously jump up and kill the evil snake–“one like him, killed him.” Nachash (“snake”) = 358 = Mashiach. The holy power of Dan reflects a spark of Mashiach. In the Zohar we are taught that the commander-in-chief of the army of Mashiach will come from the tribe of Dan. … Positive anger expresses the deepest care and concern of the soul that reality become good.” (Inner.org)
Now the lesson of Dan begins to become clear. Moses is instructed by G!d(dess) to create an idol, to make a graven image (פֶסֶל) that represents something of heaven or earth. He does it and is not punished. On the other hand, King Jeroboam ignores the council of his people and of his own volition decides to create two golden calves for the people to worship, invents new holidays, and installs his own priests — and he is punished (1 Kings 12:1-33).
Oholiab and Huram-abi create ritual objects for religious service, some that seem to cross over into representations of things from heaven or earth – but they are given not just knowledge – but Binah – understanding. They are blessed.
Understanding comes with maturity. Good judgment comes with maturity. The snake is not evil; its temptation. As children, like Adam and Chava were in Eden, it is easy to be tempted. But consider this too. Maybe Chava grew up. Maybe she made a considered decision that it was time to grow up. Maybe Adam didn’t, “she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” (Gen 3:12) It is often said that girls mature more rapidly than boys, but even then they may be lacking the understanding (בִּינָה) of experience. Maybe Chava was mature enough to make a decision for herself, but not mature enough to know that Adam would just eat or understand the implications her decision might have beyond herself.
In Tevet, Dan challenges us to look at the decisions we make for ourselves that impact only us and then the decisions we make that impact others. Are we mature enough to know the difference? Do we have just knowledge or do we have understanding? Are our actions good ones? If we are angry is it because we are immature and don’t really understand, or is it because we see clearly an injustice in the world that needs to be rectified? Use this month to explore the choices you make in your life. Tevet and the tribe of Dan take us into the Winter Solstice (Tefukat Tevet), the darkest of days — which this year will be darker than most because there is also a total lunar eclipse.
Light born from darkness,
dawn born from night,
hope born from quiet
waiting for the light.
Spring born from winter,
spark struck from sun,
strength born from calling
for the spring to come.
Tonight the dark is waiting,
longing to be gone.
Tonight the earth is turning,
facing toward the dawn. (RK’Jill Hammer)
Will you find understanding in the darkness or will you find fear and anger? May you find blessing, strength, wisdom and understanding in the darkening of the days and the knowledge that the light will return.
Adapted from a post originally written for Peeling a Pomegranate (2003-2013) by Kohenet Ketzirah haMa’agelet