From Snake to Lion by Zachary Rosenberg


When Yaakov gives Dan his Beracha, he says, “Dan will judge his people, and Bnai Yisrael will be like one.  Dan will be a snake by the path, that bites a horse’s heels so its rider falls backward.  For your Salvation do I long for Hashem!”(Bereishit 49:16-18)  What does Dan’s judging have to do with Bnai Yisrael being “like one”?  Why is Dan compared to a snake?  Additionally, what does “For your salvation do I long for Hashem” have to do with Dan? 

To answer these questions, we need to look at other places in the Torah where Dan is mentioned.  In last week’s Parsha, Parshat Vayigash, we see that Dan had only one son, Chushim.  Making matters even more difficult, Chushim, according to the Midrash, was blind.  All other tribes have more sons and greater numbers of people.   In Sefer Bereishit, Dan looks like a dying Shevet.   In Parshat Pinchas, however, Dan was the second to largest Shevet with 64,600 (Bemidbar 26:43) men, a large number, without even including women and children.  There, Dan was thriving!

What happened?  The tribe of Dan was in a tough position yet eventually achieved greatness.  The Shevet had an enormous range of experience, and, as a result, were able to judge people fairly, and thereby unite them.  At the time of Yaakov’s Beracha, Dan was compared to a snake, because it was going through a harsh test, one that it seemed more likely than not to fail, just as the snake in the Gan Eden story fails.   By the time we get to Moshe’s Beracha to Dan, however, the image of the snake is gone.  In this later Beracha, Moshe says, “Dan is a lion cub, leaping forth...”(Devarim 33:22)   At the end, Shevet Dan passed its test to the fullest. Moshe emphasized the tribe’s great change by using the image of a lion, a symbol of a large and powerful Shevet. Dan was and will be able to unite Bnai Yisrael by using its judgment. 

The final phrase, “For your salvation do I long for Hashem,” exists as a Beracha from Yaakov that Dan should be saved from being a “snake,” be able to pass the test, and become the “lion.”  This is the Beracha that Yaakov gave Dan. Yaakov wanted Dan to survive and gave him the Beracha, and, in the end, Yaakov’s wishes were granted.

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