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Mosaic of 12 Tribes

Only as a “kingdom of priests and holy nation” that reveals HaShem’s Oneness over all spheres of life can Israel fully express His Ideal and lead mankind to experience a world of total blessing.

“All these are the tribes of Israel – twelve – and this is what their father spoke to them and he blessed them; he blessed each according to his appropriate blessing.” (B’reishit 49:28)


Just prior to his passing, Yaakov blessed his sons for the final time. The Abarbanel teaches that the patriarch bestowed a blessing upon the tribal heads according to each one’s particular task in the larger mission of building the Hebrew nation.

He blessed them individually – each in line with his own specific aptitudes and capabilities – so that all would direct their talents and energies towards the path for which HaShem had uniquely suited them. This understanding illustrates the point that each Hebrew tribe has its own distinct role as part of Israel’s larger national mission.

Far from breeding disunity, however, the separate tribal callings bind Israel more firmly together. The tribes are likened to spokes of a wheel – though the spokes point in different directions, they are all part of the same wheel and are each essential to its proper function.

The sons of Yaakov and their tribes each have a distinct role to play within the larger Hebrew nation. While Yehuda is destined for royalty, Shimon early childhood education, Levi priesthood, Yissakhar scholarship, Z’vulun commerce, et cetera, all twelve contribute their talents and unique abilities to serving HaShem and manifesting His Ideal.

The Midrash teaches that there are seventy faces (facets) to the Torah (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15). There are numerous ways to facilitate the revelation of HaShem’s Divine Oneness to mankind. While this understanding is crucial for achieving a broader and more inclusive perspective, it is unfortunately all too often misunderstood and taken to a counterproductive extreme. The various faces of the Torah are only legitimate so long as they fit into the framework of Israel’s historic mission and earthly function. An interpretation that runs contrary to the Hebrew mission cannot be considered a valid understanding of Torah.

While there is one truth and not seventy, this one absolute and all encompassing Truth can possess within it a multiplicity of smaller truths, which can each be viewed from various angles and perspectives. The Torah can be approached and understood in an assortment of ways so long as these are all in line with its fundamental essence. And although this might seem to disqualify movements within the Jewish world that negate the importance of Torah law, the binding authority of our sages, the commandment to reside in Eretz Yisrael or the prohibition against surrendering any portion of it to other nations, even those who champion these positions are often expressing something deep within the collective Hebrew soul that in its own way contributes to the advancement of the Israeli mission.

The various faces of Torah are not conflicting philosophies but rather different ways of contributing to the objective mission of Am Yisrael. The Hebrew nation is one body with one common purpose – to bring this world to the awareness of HaShem as the timeless ultimate Reality without end that creates all, sustains all, empowers all and loves all.

In order for Israel to achieve this lofty goal, we must first constitute a healthy nation in our homeland. Our society must encompass scholars, doctors, engineers, farmers, pilots, accountants, lawmakers, firefighters and sanitation workers – all serving the Kadosh Barukh Hu and working in unison to build His kingdom in our physical world – a kingdom that will provide material expression to all of our Torah’s highest spiritual values. Not as a “religion” or philosophy but as a living reality – a nation whose very life force and national culture is the Divine Ideal being fully expressed in every field of human endeavor. A “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Sh’mot 19:6) – where even the bus drivers drive their buses and the merchants sell their wares in such a way that manifests HaShem’s Ideal in their specific spheres of life – is the true practical meaning of the Torah’s seventy faces.

Am Yisrael – the uniquely created receptacle and conduit through which Divine energy and blessing radiates into our world – is once again experiencing a national rebirth on our soil. Israel has returned to the world stage in what has so far been merely the introduction to a revolutionary process destined to lead mankind towards history’s ultimate goal.

While Torah scholars must serve as the heart of the Israeli national body and should work to properly direct it according to HaShem’s Will, each organ and limb is essential to the healthy function of that body. Each of us was created unique with our own special attributes and prospective contributions to the collective whole. And whatever our individual talents might be, they must be constantly directed towards the realization of Israel’s national mission of elevating human existence to its highest potential and bringing this world to its goal of absolute good that preceded Creation and continues to pull history towards it. Only as a “kingdom of priests and holy nation” that reveals HaShem’s Oneness over all spheres of life can Israel fully express the grandeur of His Ideal and lead mankind to experience a world of total blessing.

[Published in Vision Magazine.]

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Rav Yehuda HaKohen is an organizer and educator living in northern Judea. As a leader in the Vision movement, he works to empower students and young professionals to become active participants in the current chapter of Jewish history.