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This is the blessing Moses… gave the Israelites before his death (33:1).
Moses' blessings to the Israelites as a maturing nation of twelve tribes parallel the earlier blessings of Jacob to his twelve sons - who descendants were to become those twelve tribes. Like Jacob, Moses addresses each tribe individually, and then reaches a climax with a final blessing for all Israel: 'Happy are you, O Israel. Who is like you? A people saved by G-d (33:29)…'
All tribes received individual blessings, except Simeon. Jacob rebuked Simeon and Levi for their massacre of the people of Shechem (Gen. 34:30) - a measure for the rape of their sister Dinah. 'Cursed be their anger for it is strong, and their vengeance for it is harsh. I will divide them amongst Jacob. I will scatter them amongst Israel' (Gen. 49:7).
Indeed, both Simeon and Levi were 'scattered amongst Israel' as neither received territory in their own right, but were allotted settlements within the areas of other tribes (Josh. 13:14; 19:1). Yet Moses blessed Levi, but did not bless Simeon. Why?
Rashi and Ibn Ezra point out that Jacob had castigated Simeon for Zimri, the prince of that tribe, being a leading figure in the idolatrous worship of Baal Peor (Num. 25:14). But Simeon was not the only tribe with sinning leading figures. Datan and Abiram - leaders in Korach's rebellion against Moses, were from the tribe of Reuben (Num. 16:1). Yet the tribe of Reuben was blessed.
It seems that the tribes of Simeon and Levi had both started off at the same point - rebuked by the Patriach Jacob over the destruction in Shechem: 'I will divide them amongst Jacob. I will scatter them amongst Israel'. Yet both tribes were to be put to the test, and go in completely different directions. Common to both was - they killed people for the rape of a family member. Would they do the same for the Creator's commandments? [If they did, it would suggest that the killing at Shechem was in the capacity of a 'servant of G-d' - le-shem shamayim - 'for the sake of Heaven - with the highest intentions'. If not, it would suggest that the killing at Shechem was in the capacity of taking vengeance on behalf of a member of the family, and out of family pride only.]
The test came in due course - after the sin of the Golden Calf. 'Moses stood at the gate of the camp, and said: "Who is for G-d - to Me". The tribe of Levi - only - 'came all together to him' (32:21), and carried out Moses' orders to execute those involved with the Golden Calf. They acted not merely on the tribal level, but on the national level - on behalf of all tribes. They therefore replaced the firstborn as becoming the special tribe who would in due course be involved in the Temple worship, and dispense justice (33:10) - as Moses blessed them. Their duties were such that they actually needed to be present in all tribes…
In contrast, Simeon failed to respond to his test (even at the mere tribal level) - over Baal Peor. The leading recorded figure in that episode (with 24,000 dead) was Zimri, of the tribe of Simeon. Though he openly challenged Moses, nobody from the tribe of Simeon did anything to prevent it - or indeed, create an atmosphere disapproving of his behavior. Ironically, it was a descendant of Levi - Pinchas - who took G-d's vengeance through killing Zimri…
Thus Jacob's censure of Levi turned to be a blessing in disguise. The Levites needed to be 'divided in Jacob, scattered in Israel' in order to carry out their duties - including judging the people. They gained. The people of Simeon were censured by Jacob with the very same words - and it turned out to no blessing at all. For that reason Moses did not develop it or reinforce it. On the subject of Simeon, he remained silent. Thus they took their possessions in the southern area of Judah, and unblessed, they appeared to have slowly dissolved into that dominant tribe…
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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