Bezalel and Oholiab—The Tribes of Judah and Dan

Bezalel and Oholiab—The Tribes of Judah and Dan

By Yehudah Zoldan*

Leaders from two tribes—Judah and Dan—together led the Jewish people at various significant points in their history.

Bezalel and Oholiab—Builders of the Tabernacle

Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, was chosen to build the Tabernacle, along with Oholiab son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan (Ex. 31:2-6; 35:30-35).  In this week’s reading they appear as equals:  “Let, then, Bezalel and Oholiab…carry out…Moses then called Bezalel and Oholiab” (Ex. 36:1-2).  What is special about the combination of Bezalel and Oholiab?  Rashi (on Ex. 35:34) writes:

Oholiab—was of the tribe of Dan, of one of the lowest of the tribes, of the sons of the handmaids, and yet the Omnipresent placed him with regard to the work of the Tabernacle on a level with Bezalel although the latter was a member of one of the noble tribes (Judah), in order to confirm what Scripture says, “The noble are not preferred to the wretched” (Job 34:19).

The tribe of Judah was the tribe of the monarchy, whereas Dan was one of the sons born to Jacob’s concubines.  The tribe of Judah marched at the head of the Israelites as they journeyed through the wilderness (Num. 10:14), and the tribe of Dan brought up the rear (Num. 10:25).  Choosing both these tribes symbolizes drawing together the entire people of Israel, from one end to the other, as explained by Rabbi Zaddok ha-Cohen of Lublin:

The fact that the Lord, blessed be He, coupled the noblest of the tribes—namely Judah, from whom the Messiah will come—and the lowliest of the bribes, the tribe of Dan, in working on the Tabernacle indicates that small and great alike are equal before the Omnipresent.  Likewise, the Temple was made by two tribes—Solomon, from the tribe of Judah, and Hiram, from Dan…thus the great and the small are equal before the Omnipresent, and each one has something in which he excels over all Israel (Pri Tzedek, Exodus, Parashat Shekalim).

Judah and Dan—A Lion’s Whelp

These two tribes were coupled together even before construction of the Tabernacle.  According to legend, the following transpired when Joseph sought to keep Benjamin with him after his goblet had been found in the younger brother’s bag:

Judah immediately became irate and roared loudly.  The sound of his voice carried four hundred parsahs,** reaching the ears of Hushim, son of Dan, who jumped up and came and joined Judah.  Together they roared until the land of Egypt almost overturned.  Of them it is said in Job:  “The lion may roar, the cub may howl, but the teeth of the king of beasts are broken” (Job 4:10).  The roaring lion is Judah, as it is written:  “A lion’s whelp is Judah” (Gen. 49:9), and the howling cub is Hushim son of Dan, for both have been likened to a lion, as it is written (Deut. 33:22):  “Dan is a lion’s whelp that leaps forth from Bashan.”  (Genesis Rabbah, VaYigash, 93.7)

Both the tribes of Judah and of Dan are called “a lion’s whelp,” reflecting strong and determined leadership, bravely coming forth for the good of others.

Solomon and Hiram—Builders of the First Temple

When the Temple was first built in its permanent location in Jerusalem, another connection was established between the tribes of Judah and Dan.  King Solomon was the leading force in the construction of the First Temple, and the builder in charge of construction was Hiram, whose mother came from the tribe and Dan, and father, from Naphtali (I Kings 7:14; II Chron. 2:13).  The midrash notes a parallel between the builders of the Tabernacle and the builders of the First Temple:

“He was the son of a widow [of the tribe of Naphtali]” (I Kings 7:14), but it also is written, “the son of a Danite woman” (II Chron. 2:13).  Rabbi Levi said in the name of Rabbi Hiyya bar Hanina:  When the Tabernacle was built, two tribes took part in the work—from the tribe of Judah, Bezalel, and from the tribe of Dan, Oholiab son of Ahisamach.  Likewise, with the building of the Temple, “the son (of a widow he was, from the tribe) from the Danite women,” and Solomon son of David from the tribe of Judah.  (Yalkut Shimoni, I Kings, 185)

Rashi (loc. cit.) explains the reason a connection was made between the two tribes:

Why is there need to say from which tribe his father and his mother came?  Because it is written, “G‑d has vindicated (Heb. dananni, connected with Dan) me” (Gen. 30:6), as well as, “A fateful contest I waged (Heb. naftule…naphtalti, connected with Naphtali)” (Gen. 30:8).  Rachel said:  Henceforth I will twist and turn until I can make myself like my sister Leah.  If Leah boasts that her descendent Bezalel will build the Tabernacle, then he will be joined in the work by someone descended from Dan, as it is written, “and with him Oholiab son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan” (Ex. 38:23); and if Solomon, descended from my sister, builds the Temple, he will do it along with someone descended from Dan and Naphtali.

This reasoning is on account of the fear of tension and jealousy between the tribes.  Emphasis is put on drawing together the extremes in the tribes of Israel—from the most noble to the most lowly—so as to say that all the tribes have a part in building the Tabernacle.  Rav Kook saw a further dimension in this combination of the tribes:  a correct and precise combination of sacred and mundane.  Mundane life must be elevated and given a dimension of content and sanctity, but one must also bring about motion in the opposite direction, applying and realizing lofty values in daily life.  As he put it:  “From the wealth of the mundane to the heights of the font of holiness, but along with it there must also be a force that draws from the springs of the sacred and provides drink for the mundane.  Bezalel along with Oholiab did all that the Lord had commanded Moses” (Orot ha-Kodesh I, p. 69).

Samson, his father from Dan and his mother, Judah; the Messiah, his father from Judah and his mother, Dan.

Samson, one of the more eminent judges, combined the tribes in another way:  his father was from Dan and his mother, from Judah.  This is how the midrash explains his being from Zorah, in the territory of Dan, but also from the territory of Judah (Numbers Rabbah [Vilna ed.], Parashat Naso, 10.5):

“Of the family of the Danites” (Judg. 18:14).  Since Zorah belonged to Judah, as it is written, Eshtaol and Zorah, and Ashnah (Josh. 15:33)—and Zorah belonged to Dan—as it is written, “And the border of their inheritance was Zorah, and Eshtaol” (Josh. 19:41)—it was consequently necessary to explain that he was “of the family of the Danites.”  It does not say, “Of the tribe” but “of the family of the Danites.”  This teaches that his father was of Dan and Manoah’s mother was of Judah.  In allusion to this it was that Jacob said, Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel (Gen. 49:16), meaning as the unique among the tribes, namely Judah.  The reason then why he [Samson] was compared to Judah is because he was from the land of Judah and his mother came from Judah, and while Manoah was of Dan, his wife was of Judah.  Samson thus proves to be both of the tribe of Dan and of the tribe of Judah.  This, in fact, tallies with what the Sages have said:  Samson’s mother was named Hazlelponi and she traced her family descent to the tribe of Judah; as it says, “And the name of their sister was Hazlelponi” (I Chron. 4:3).

Another midrash conveys the message that it will also be the same in the future, with the lineage of the Messiah:

“A lion’s whelp is Judah”—this is the Messiah son of David, who will come from two tribes, his father from Judah and his mother from Dan.  Scripture associates both tribes with a lion’s whelp, writing of Dan, “Dan is a lion’s whelp” (Deut. 33:22), and of Judah, “A lion’s whelp is Judah” (Midrash Aggadah [Buber], Genesis, Parashat Va-Yehi, chapter 49).

There are instances when both these force are focused on a single personality, in order to derive the necessary strength from uniting the tribes from end to end, drawing together material and spiritual, sacred and mundane.

Translated by Rachel Rowen

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* Rabbi Yehudah Zoldan teaches at the Midrasha for Women and serves in the Ministry of Education as the central supervisor of instruction in Talmud and Oral Law in the religious school system. Originally published in Hebrew in 2016. The translation has not been reviewed by the author.

** Distance covered by an average man in a day's walk is 10 parsa'ot.

Last modified: 20/03/2017