"And These Are the Tribes of Israel"

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



Summarized by Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon


"All these are the tribes of Israel, twelve of them; ...each according to his blessing he blessed them." (Bereishit 49:28)

Two factors combine to form a person's character. On the one hand, the individual must see himself as part of the community - "All these are the tribes of Israel, twelve of them." On the other hand, each individual has his own destiny, his own personality - "each according to his blessing he blessed them." There is no standard model that applies to everyone.

The Or Ha-chayyim explains that Yaakov blessed his children each according to his innermost spiritual characteristics. Early psychologists and the deterministic psychology that they expounded, following the ideology of the French Revolution, held that we are all born equal - each like a blank page. Chazal never accepted this theory, and instead believed that each of us has inborn characteristics, and hence a unique destiny. Modern psychology, too - le-havdil - agrees with this assessment.

A person needs to recognize what is special about himself and to develop himself accordingly. At the same time he needs to remember that he is part of a society, and therefore if he is capable of directing his life towards several different goals, he should choose his direction based on the needs of society.

An orchestra is made up of strings, woodwinds, percussion, and horns. If all the musicians had chosen the same path for themselves and all ended up, for instance, in the strings section, the potential of the orchestra would be greatly diminished.

The same applies to learning. The Jewish world would not have been any richer had the Radak been another Rabbeinu Peretz. The Radak specialized in Tanakh, and his teachings are very valuable to Am Yisrael. It must be remembered, though, that the basis must always be retained - "all these are the tribes of Israel;" in our case - the tradition of Rava and Abbaye. Gedolei Yisrael, whether they specialized in Tanakh, philosophy, etc., were also well-versed in the study of gemara.

It is only once a person has built his foundations that he can branch off onto the route for which he is destined.

(Originally delivered at Seuda Shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Vayechi 5753.

Translated by Kaeren Fish.)



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