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Q & A: ‘The Scepter Shall Not Depart From Judah’ (Part II)

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Question: As Shavuot is fast approaching – a holiday on which we dwell on the story of Ruth and the origins of the royal house of David – I was wondering if you could help me resolve something. Some people say that Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi, the redactor of the six orders of the Mishnah and a scion of King David, purposely kept any mention of Chanukah and the Hasmonean kings out of the Mishnah because the Hasmoneans improperly crowned themselves and ignored the rule that all Jewish kings are supposed to come from the tribe of Yehudah. Is this true?

(Via E-Mail)

Answer: Last week we mentioned that Jacob prophetically blessed each of his 12 sons. Since Judah possessed the necessary qualities to lead his brothers, Jacob blessed him with the words (49:8-10), “The scepter shall not depart from Judah nor a scholar from among his descendants until Shiloh arrives, and his will be an assemblage of nations.”

Rashi explains that King David’s rule will continue until the arrival of Mashiach. Rashbam derives from the words “until Shiloh arrives” that the kingdom will be divided and writes that Jacob’s prediction only referred to the time of David until Rehaboam. However, Targum Yonatan b. Uziel states that the divine right of rule over Israel belongs exclusively to the House of David. We concluded with the question: If so, how could the first king of Israel, Saul, have come from the tribe of Benjamin?

* * * * *

Another question concerning Judah’s divine right to rule: In Parshat Vayechi (Genesis 49:16), Jacob blessed Dan as follows: “Dan yadin amo k’achad shivtei Yisrael – Dan shall judge his people like the one tribe of Israel.” Both the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 98:18) and Gemara (Sotah 10a) explain that Jacob was referring to Samson who judged (i.e., ruled over) his people. Jacob assumed that Samson would be the ultimate redeemer, Melech HaMoshiach – the King, the Messiah. Thus, the Midrash explains, when he foresaw Samson’s unfortunate downfall, he cried out, “Lishuatecha kiviti Hashem – I await your salvation, O L-rd” (ibid. 49:18).

Apparently, then, Jacob intended that the last monarch of the Jewish people come from Dan, not Judah. But what about Jacob’s earlier words, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah”?

Interestingly, while Targum Yonatan b. Uziel, Rashi, Ramban, and Klei Yakar all explain that Jacob was referring to Samson in the above-quoted verses, the Rashbam is sharply dismissive of their interpretation. He interprets the blessing as referring to the task of Dan. Due to their unusual strength, tribesmen of Dan (during the times of Moses and Joshua) would not only hold up the rear of the nation’s encampment, but also would defend their brethren from attackers.

Even if we follow the Rashbam’s explanation, problems with Jacob’s blessing to Judah remain. In Parshat Shemot (Exodus 3:16) G-d tells Moses to gather the elders of the Jewish people and say: “Hashem Elokei Avoteichem nir’ah ei’lay, Elokei Avraham Yitzchak v’Yaakov lemor pakod pakadeti etchem v’eit he’asuy lachem b’Mitzrayim – Hashem the G-d of your fathers appeared to me, the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob said: I have surely remembered you and what is being done to you in Egypt.”

The phrase “pakod pakadeti etchem” defies an exact translation, but due to the doubling of the word pakod, which is translated as “remember” by Targum Onkelos, the phrase means something to the effect of surely remembered or truly remembered.

Rashi quotes a Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 5) that states: This hidden sign (the words “pakod yifkod”) was handed down as a tradition from Jacob to Joseph. Joseph, in turn, handed it to his brothers, and Asher, the son of Jacob, in turn, handed it to his daughter Serach who was still living at the time of the exodus (another Midrash relates that Jacob promised Serach eternal life – i.e., living a long life and eventually ascending to heaven without dying). The tradition was that anyone who comes and says to the Jewish people, “Pakod pakadeti etchem” is the true redeemer of the Jewish people. When Moses, therefore, came to the sages and used these exact words in introducing himself and his divine mission, they sought out Serach who confirmed that Moses was undoubtedly the redeemer sent by G-d.

Now, although Moses’ mission was to redeem the Jewish people from Egypt, it is obvious that if they and Moses had not sinned in the incidents of the spies (Numbers 14) and the hitting of the rock (Numbers 20), they would have merited to sojourn eternally in the land of Israel with Moses – who came from the tribe of Levi, not Judah – as the Jewish people’s leader.

Furthermore, in Parshat Ve’zot Ha’beracha, we read (Deuteronomy 33:5), “Vayehi bi’shurun melech b’hitateif rashei am yachad shivtei Yisrael – He was the king in Israel, when the heads of the people gathered with the tribes of Israel.” Rashi says “king” refers to G-d, but Ibn Ezra says it refers to Moses. Ramban also cites midrashim that it refers to Moses. The Ohr Hachayim derives from this verse the halacha that the appointment of a king requires the presence of a beit din of 71 sages in the presence of the people. Thus, the verse obviously refers to a flesh-and-blood king.

Now, if the tribe of Judah was promised kingship, how could Moses, who came from the tribe of Levi, potentially serve as king of the Jewish people in Israel?

(To be continued)

Rabbi Yaakov Klass

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.

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