Perhaps it may indeed seem as if those sons are not as important. But we know otherwise, for without the sons of the maids there is no Klal Yisroel. “All these are the tribes of Israel – twelve…”
In our world everybody wants to be the best. But if everyone is going to become a Rosh Yeshiva or a Rebbe, there won’t be any yeshivos or chassidus. To be a leader one must have followers, and to be a follower one must be ready to accept that leadership.
This is a concept that makes it way into all facets of life.
In the field of education we have bred a generation that feels anything less than a straight ‘A’ report card is terrible. Young adults feel that their lives are ruined because of their grades before they even hit adolescence. Teens commit suicide because they realize they aren’t going to be the next iconic pop star or professional athlete, and they feel that without the glitz and glamour what’s life worth? And how many of us feel that if we can’t be the CEO or the boss we are a complete failure?
And in regards to Torah study and spiritual growth we are paralyzed by such feelings of inadequacy. Why should I even bother to learn my one meager page of Gemara? I’m never going to know the entire Talmud anyway. Why should I work on improving my mitzvah performance, what are my actions worth anyway?
Klal Yisroel is not only composed of Reuven the firstborn, Levi the Kohen, Yehuda the Melech, and Yosef the Viceroy. Without the sons of the maids – maids only in regards to their complete subjugation and humility – there is no Klal Yisroel. Not only are the sons of maids inextricable members of Klal Yisroel, but the actions which we deem to be analogous to ‘the sons of the maids’, i.e. our Torah study, efforts to concentrate in prayer, good deeds, efforts at spiritual growth, etc. are all vital components of our identities as well.
In psychology one of the most rudimentary debates is about nature vs nurture. Are we more programmed by the way we are created or are we more influenced by our surroundings and culture? We believe that G-d creates every person with the tools he needs, and then places him in his perfect environment to achieve his own level of greatness.
Yaakov gathers his sons individually and blesses each one by delineating his strengths and innate greatness. “Each man according to his blessing, he blessed them.” Every tribe possessed his own contribution to the nation, based on the inner greatness that G-d had already implanted with him. Yaakov’s blessing was that each tribe should be able to cultivate and develop that greatness.
The slogan of the United States army expresses this idea so eloquently: “Be all you can be.” We aren’t all destined to be the Gadol Hador, but each of us possesses the ability to become a gadol in our own way, if we appreciate the gadlus (greatness) that lies within us. One person’s greatness is as Yehuda or Yosef, while another person’s greatness is analogous to the roles of Asher and Naftali.