Sensitive Souls

Rabbi Zvi Teichman

The Torah reiterates several times the magnificent partnership between Betzalel and Ohaliav who both possessed the requisite supernal wisdom and skill that was needed for the proper construction of the Tabernacle and all its holy and intricate vessels and components.

The Torah punctuates at every mention of this pair the fact that Betzalel descended from the family of Yehuda, while Ohaliav’s lineage was from Dan. G-d selected these two, we are taught, to demonstrate that whether one derives from royalty; the tribe of Yehuda, or from the ‘lowly’ tribe of Dan; the son of Bilhah who was merely a maidservant to Rachel, they are both equal in the eyes of G-d.

Was the old rivalry between the sons of Leah and the children of the maidservants, that came to light when the brothers infamously taunted Yosef for defending their honor, still prevalent these many years later?

After having suffered collectively the terrible years of slavery in Egypt and having experienced ‘with one united heart’ the revelation at Mount Sinai and the giving of the Torah, could they still have possibly harbored remnants of those old biases? Would this noble nation need to be taught a lesson in ‘affirmative action’ by hiring a member of a tribe that was victim to discrimination?

This alliance between Yehuda and Dan reappeared in the days of King Solomon, a descendant of Yehuda, when he enlisted Chiram, a master artisan, a member of the tribe of Naftali whose mother hailed from the tribe of Dan, to head the efforts to construct the Temple.(שמ”ר מ ד) 

The Midrash further states that the Moshiach, that famed heir to the Davidic dynasty, who will restore that glorious kingdom, herald the final redemption, and restore the Temple, would have a mother who traced her ancestry to Dan as well. (ילק”ש ויחי רמז קס)

Despite several other tribes that descend from the maidservants of the matriarchs it is Dan alone who is termed הירוד, the lowliest, or more accurately the most ‘devalued’ among the tribes. What distinguished Dan from the others that earned him specifically this title of ‘honor’?

Throughout our history the tribe of Dan seems to be extremely susceptible to ‘going off the derech’, opting out of belief and commitment to G-d. 

It is said that the graven image known as ‘Pesel Michah’, the ‘Image of Michah’, was brought out of Egypt and carried by the tribe of Dan even as they traversed the Reed Sea, and they eventually worshipped it publicly during the episode in the days of the Judges where this idol and its temple were situated among the tribe of Dan. (שוחר טוב קא ב)

The Torah describes how the Amalekites attacked the weaklings and stragglers who were spewed out from the protective Clouds of Glory. We are taught that these were the members of the tribe of Dan who were tainted with the sin of idolatry.

The son of Shlomis bas Divri, a descendant of the tribe of Dan, who was fathered by an Egyptian taskmaster, blasphemed G-d when he sought to pitch his tent among the tribe and was rejected since he lacked a paternal link to the tribe.

Yeravam ben Nevat who seceded from the dominion of the House of David and went on to initiate the kingdom of Israel, established two temples where they worshipped the golden calves, with one of them located in the region of Dan where he found willing adherents to his renegade ways.

Despite this propensity for rebellion it was the tribe of Dan who is termed the מאסף לכל המחנות, the gatherer of all camps, not only due to their bringing up the rear and collecting lost items and stragglers that may have fallen behind, but more significantly for their uncanny ability to inspire all those who have fallen in their spirit and allegiance to G-d.(זוהר ויחי נפה”ח א ו ועוד) 

How is it that they are both the most vulnerable to sin yet possess that remarkable ability to draw those whom have strayed away to return?

Only in the last few decades have researchers identified a personality type termed Highly Sensitive People (HSP). It is not a disorder but merely a nature, a tendency of the soul to react to the world with extraordinary sensitivity. It affects nearly twenty percent of humanity without distinction between man and woman. 

Highly sensitive people are attuned to other people’s needs and are able to intuit feelings and attitudes. They process life and its experiences on a deeper level. They see the ‘greater picture’ more vividly, whether it is colors, scents or music. They contemplate decisions and are more emotionally reactive. They work extremely well with others but are more prone to anxiety, disappointment and depression. Their sensitivity obviously makes them more vulnerable to reacting to criticism more harshly. They are generally very creative, intelligent and capable.

The profile of an HSP bespeaks a person who is empathetic and desirous of creating a world where justice and consideration rein, and everything fits into its proper place. When a HSP senses injustice they react, whether emotionally or by action. They don’t simply roll with the punches as many non-HSPs are capable of. They need to find their place and define their role. When they aren’t acknowledged or validated they may withdraw, retreat and lapse into apathy or worse.

It’s a double-edged sword. One who is overwhelmed by its sensitivity can fall to despair, but the one who can master those special qualities cannot only inspire others with their sensitivity in a way others cannot, they can access their heightened awareness to create a world of remarkable color, feelings, and meaning.

The ancestry of Dan began with an emotional appeal from Rachel to Yaakov. Not having merited children she turns to Yaakov challenging him to bless her with children otherwise she might as well be dead. Rachel clearly is one of the most sensitive figures in Torah. Who else could possibly empathize with Leah’s fear of falling into the claws of Esav, and be willing to relinquish her greatest aspiration and right, giving instead to Leah the secret password so that she would become Yaakov’s bride and be saved from her greatest fear, if not her super sensitive Rachel? 

That same quality of sensitivity compels Rachel to blurt out that if she cannot bear a child then how is she to define her godly role as a mother? Her appeal didn’t stem from selfishness but rather from a deep consciousness of the purpose and function of the world that summons man to discover its role in creating a ‘wholly’ universe. 

With that same passion she undertakes to ask of G-d that a child be born to her maidservant Bilhah, so that she may contribute her efforts in making the universe a better place.

She calls the child Bilhah begets, דן, Dan, from the language of judgment, declaring that G-d has judged her favorably and has validated her by accepting  her plea to ‘right’ the universe by giving her a meaningful role.

Dan later fathers his only child חושים, Chushim, from whom the entire large tribe will descend.

Despite being deaf, Chushim is a remarkably sensitive individual. When Yehuda ‘roars like a lion’ in the court of Yosef to compel him to return Binyamin to his father, despite the great distance between them, as Chushim was with his father in Canaan, Chushim comes running to assist Yehuda and joins the chorus. HaRav Zev Wolf Einhorn of Horodna suggests that evidently it wasn’t his hearing Yehuda’s cry that grabbed his attention, as he was deaf and the distance was far too great to hear from afar, but it was an inner sensitivity that attuned him to Yehuda’s cry. 

(ב”ר צג ז פי’ מהרז”ו)

It was the same Chushim whose sensitivity and sensibility wouldn’t tolerate Esav delaying the burial of Yaakov and famously beheads him.

The very name חושים is rooted in חוש, senses, referring to a profound and deep connection to the world around him and his sensitivity to injustice.

This tribe struggled with their highly tuned souls that often led them astray in disappointment in the disorder in the world. But that same sensitivity in the hands of those who master their heightened senses can magically reel in these fragile souls and bring them to greatness others cannot achieve.

There are souls among our nation that are fueled by the charisma of a Yehuda, the epitome of royalty, that can inspire others to join in the greater cause of promoting the will of G-d without any need to soothe or delegate any specific individual role to any single person. Simply by belonging to the greater collective spirit enables those who are less sensitive to roll with the punches and never get discouraged and stay in the fray. But there are the ‘Dan’ neshamos, exceptional souls who need definition and order in their being and life in order to stay the journey. These souls are destined to journey between passion and apathy until they discover their inner greatness through the efforts of those who validate and appreciate their qualities and contributions, permitting them to enrich our world with their special talents, unique perspectives and depth.

Although Ohaliyav is mentioned earlier, Rashi chose to quote this aspect of his being from the ‘devalued’ of all tribes in the verse that describes how G-d endowed Betzalel and Ohaliyav, not only with the wisdom of skilled craftsmanship, but more importantly with the ability “ולהורות”, to teach others. (שמות לה לד וברש”י ד”ה ואהליאב)

Precisely because they were ‘highly sensitive persons’ and often felt devalued by the frustrations with the injustices of the world, they fought mightily to overcome this flaw and channel that extraordinary sensitivity to valuing those who walked the tightrope of sensitivity, uplifting them to new awareness of their special qualities, helping them come to appreciate themselves and the special roles they play in perfecting an imperfect world.

Perhaps the very name אהליאב, a contraction of the two words, אהלי אב, my tent and father, accents his soul’s need to discover and define his very personal, ‘my tent’, in order to connect deeply to ‘father’, the Creator and His world. 

He was בן אחיסמך, the son of Achisamach. אחיסמך as well is a contraction of the two words אחי סמך, my brother and support. One who achieves the former goal of carving a role in this world that connects one to our Father in Heaven can then be a ‘brother’ to those who have ‘fallen’, by supporting and instilling that same renewed confidence that will ‘gather’ them back into the embrace of the ‘Clouds of Glory’.

May we be supportive of these special souls, who in this era prior to the coming of the Moshiach are aplenty and yearning to find their meaningful place in the world, so that they may promote the beauty of G-d’s magnificent world as only they can.

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