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Naftoli and His Tribe

Naftoli and His Tribe

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Naftoli was the sixth son of our father Yaakov. He was the younger of the two sons of Bilha, Rachel's maid, whom Rachel had offered to be Yaakov's wife, hoping that she (Rachel, who had as yet no children) would have a child through her. His older brother was Dan.

When Yaakov blessed the tribes, he said about Naftoli: "Naftoli is a swift deer. He expresses beautiful sayings." (Gen. 49:21)

Our Sages of blessed memory relate that Naftoli was truly swift as a deer. When the brothers returned from Egypt with the happy tidings that Yosef was alive, Naftoli was the first to reach Yaakov to bring the good news.

Many years later, when Yaakov's body was brought from Egypt to be buried in the Cave of Machpelah. Esau did not want to allow it, claiming that the last free burial spot was his. Naftoli was the speedy messenger who dashed off to Egypt and brought the Bill of Sale which clearly stated that Esau had sold this burial spot to Yaakov.

The blessing of our Father Yaakov to Naftoli was also fulfilled when the Land of Israel was divided among the twelve tribes. At that time, the tribe of Naftoli received a very fertile part of the Land of Israel - the Valley of Genosor (The Sea of Galilee), where fruits ripened first in the whole land. It was from this part of the land that the First Fruits (Bikurim) were brought to the Beth Hamikdosh in Jerusalem as a thanksgiving offering to HaShem.

At the time when Naftoli came to Egypt, together with Yaakov's entire family of 70 souls, Naftoli had four sons. These branched out into four family clans. Upon leaving Egypt with the entire Jewish people, 210 years later, Naftoli's tribe counted 53,400 males of military age (20 years and older), apart from women and children.

The Nasi (Prince or Head) of the tribe of Naftoli was Achira, son of Enan. The tribe ranked sixth among the tribes, according to the number of tribesmen. Forty years later, when the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel, under the leadership of Yehoshua, son of Nun, the tribe of Naftoli counted 45,400 -8,000 fewer, and was the eighth highest among the tribes at the latest count.

In the "Order of the Flags" in which the Jewish people marched through the Desert of Sinai (eastward) to the Promised Land, the twelve tribes were divided into four divisions ("camps"), consisting of three tribes each, and headed by a leading tribe assigned to be the standard-bearer. The whole Jewish people encamped, as well as marched, in the form of a quadrangle (square), with the Ohel Mo'ed (Tabernacle) in the center, surrounded on all sides by the tribal camps. In between the Ohel Mo'ed and the tribal camps was the Camp of Shechinah, where the Kohanim and Leviim had their tents. Thus, on the east of the quadrangle was the camp of the tribe of Yehudah, flanked by Issachar and Zevulun; in the south were Reuven with Shimon and Gad; Efraim with Menasheh and Binyamin, were on the west; and Dan, with Asher and Naftoli, were on the north. (Num. ch. 2).

The Dan camp was the one that gathered together the stragglers of all the other camps. Naftoli, being the last tribe mentioned in the entire "Order of the Flags" must have been the rear guard who gathered up also the stragglers of his own (Dan's) camp, if there were any.

After the Mishkan (Sanctuary) was set up, and the Heads of the tribes (Nesi'im) brought their offerings for the Dedication of the Altar (Chanukas Hamizbe'ach), Achira was the Head of the tribe of Naftoli who was the last of the twelve Nesi'im to bring his offerings.

Later that year, when Moshe Rabbeinu sent out the twelve scouts to spy out the Land of Israel, the tribe of Naftoli was represented by Nachbi, son of Vofsi.

The Nasi Achira, son of Enan, was succeeded by Pedah'el, son of Amihud. He was present at the division of the Land of Israel among the tribes, under the leadership of Elazar, son of Aharon, the Kohen Godol, and Yehoshua, son of Nun (Num. 34:28).

It is worth noting that in all the cases where the tribes and their heads are mentioned (at the Census, the Dedication of the Altar, and at the division of the Land of Israel) the tribe of Naftoli is mentioned last. There is a Rabbinic saying, quoted in Rashi (Gen. 33:2) to the effect that, "The last is (often) the most favored."

When Moshe Rabbeinu blessed the tribes on the last day of his life, he blessed the tribe of Naftoli as follows: "Naftoli is Sated (filled) with favor and full of the blessing of HaShem. He will inherit the west and the south (of the Sea of Kinneret) (Deut. 33:23).

The Torah tells us that our Father Yaakov's sons - the Tribes of our people Israel - were blessed on two occasions. The first time, their father blessed them before he died (as we read in the Sedra Vayechi, the last Sedra of Breishis). The second time (233 years later) it was Moshe Rabbeinu who blessed them on the last day of his life (in the Sedra VZos HaBrocho, the last Sedra of Chumash).

In both instances the blessings were also prophecies of important events to come in the history of the 12 Tribes constituting the Jewish people. We noted the prophetic significance of these blessings in our last month's talk, in connection with Yaakov's blessing Naftoli as a "swift deer" (Gen. 49:21). We note it again in connection with Moshe's blessing the Tribe of Naftoli: "Naftoli is sated (filled with) favor, and full of HaShem's blessing. He will inherit the west and the south (of the Sea of Kinneret). -(Deut. 33:23). What is the meaning of Moshe Rabbeinu's blessing?

The plain meaning of it, as Rashi explains, is that the Tribe of Naftoli will inherit a part of the Promised Land which will be very favorable and G‑d blessed. Indeed, Naftoli's share in the Land of Israel (as it was later divided by casting lots) was in the fertile valley west and south of Lake Kinneret, also known as the Sea of Ginosar.

According to the Midrash (quoted in Ramban), this blessing has also a deeper meaning: Moshe Rabbeinu foresees that the Naftoli'Ites will merit G‑d's blessings in the fullest measure because their conduct will be in fullest compliance with HaShem's will (rotzon); moreover, their reward will be both in the World To Come (which is likened to the "sea"), as well as in this world (likened to "land").

The Hebrew word **, means both "sea" and "west," because the Great Sea (the Mediterranean) marks the entire western border of the Land of Israel. In a similar figure of speech, the word **** meaning "south," refers to the negev - the dry land of the southern region of the Land of Israel.

In what sense is the World To Come like the "sea," while the present world is like "land"? In at least two senses:

The sea is a vast area covered by water; we cannot see what's doing in the sea. But on land we can see everything. Similarly, the World To Come is called the "Hidden World," while the present world, the "here and now," is called the "Revealed World."

More importantly: When a person is about to make a sea voyage, he must provide himself with all the necessary needs for his long voyage, since on high seas there is nothing he can buy; only on land, before he sets out to sea, can he obtain all necessities. Similarly, the Torah teaches us, this world is where a person prepares for the Eternal World, the World To Come (Olam habbo), and the only things that count in the Eternal World are the eternal values a person acquires in this world: Torah, Mitzvos, Good Deeds. These are the things that G‑d commanded us to do with all our heart and soul, with all the limbs of our body, in this world, where our soul acts through our body; the next world is where we receive the reward. It is also in this world (not in the next) that a person can make amends for any wrongdoing through Teshuvah.

In a similar sense the World To Come is called "Shabbos," while this world is called "Erev-Shabbos." For, in order to he able to enjoy Shabbos, one must prepare everything before Shabbos, but if one does not take the trouble to prepare for Shabbos, what is one to eat on Shabbos? (A.Z. 3a).

Mention of the "sea" being the inheritance of the Tribe of Naftoli contains an additional hidden prophecy, namely, that the Tribe of Naftoli will be blessed with outstanding Torah scholars. The "sea" -because of its vastness and depth and being largely hidden and steeped in mystery - is a symbol of Torah, as it is written, "Her (the Torah's) measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea" (Iyov 11:9). For the same reason the sea is a symbol of the Talmud, as the Midrash comments on the verse: "This sea, vast and wide, where there are... lively creatures, small and great" (Ps. 104:25) --This sea - is the Sea of the Talmud... 'lively creatures' - these are the students."

The blessing of scholarship was already given to Naftoli by Yaakov Ovinu, when he said of Naftoli, "he expresses beautiful sayings" (Gen. 49:21). In fact this gift of Torah eloquence is indicated in the very name "Naftoli" - which consists of two Hebrew words *** and **. The first means "dripping honey" as in "The Torah and Mitzvos are sweeter than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb" (Ps. 19:11). And the word ** adds up to 40, an allusion to the Torah that Moshe received in 40 days on Mount Sinai.

The "sweetness" of Naftoli became particularly evident during the era of the judges, in the time of Devorah the Prophetess, a daughter of the Tribe of Naftoli. It was a critical time for the Jewish people in those days, when they were oppressed by the Canaanite king Yavin of Hatzor. The chief captain of his army, Sissera, had 900 armored chariots. He frequently raided Jewish settlements and farms and inflicted heavy losses of life and property. The Jewish people were powerless against him, and the oppression went on for 20 years. Finally they realized that only HaShem can deliver them, and that they must therefore return to Him and to the Torah way. Then G‑d instructed the Prophetess Devorah to summon Barak the son of Avinoam of Kedesh Naftoli (one of the Refuge Cities in the Galilee, Josh. 21:32) and to tell him to gather an army of 10,000 men from the tribes of Naftoli and Zevulun to make war against Sissera. Devorah assured him of a wonderful victory near the River Kishon, at the foot of Mount Tabor. Barak agreed to accept the call only if Devorah would accompany him. The Prophetess replied that she would go with him to the battlefield, but that the crowning glory would not be his alone, for G‑d would deliver Sissera into the hands of a woman. Devorah's prophecy was fulfilled in every detail. The Jews had a smashing victory when G‑d threw Sissera's army into confusion, causing his terrified warriors and chariots to flee in all directions. Sissera descended from his chariot and ran to hide in the house of Yael, the wife of Heber the Kenite (a descendant of Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe) who had been on good terms with King Yavin. The brave Yael was determined to make Sissera pay for his cruel deeds. As soon as Sissera fell fast asleep in her tent, she drove a long nail through his temple, putting an end to the hated oppressor. In the meantime, Barak, in hot pursuit of Sissera, approached Yael's tent. Yael came out to meet him and led him into the tent where the cruel captain lay dead.

After this victory (which brought deliverance and peace to the land of Israel for 40 years under the wise leadership of Devorah and Barak) Devorah composed a song in the spirit of prophecy about the miraculous deliverance. The Song of Devorah is certainly among the most "beautiful sayings" that the Tribe of Naftoll produced. Indeed, the Song of Devorah is only second to the Song which Moshe and the children of Israel sang after the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea.

There is an opinion among our Sages that Barak was the husband of Devorah who is described (Judges 4:4) as "the wife of Lapidos." (Lapid means "flame," and Barak means "lightning," the similarity of meaning suggesting that the same man was known by both names). When Devorah became a prophetess, they separated, and Devorah made her home in the hill country of Efraim, while Barak remained in Kedesh Naftoli. According to another opinion, Barak came from the Tribe of Issochor. Our Sages also say that it was during the time of Devorah and Barak that the story of Ruth took place. (Ruth Rabbah, ch. 1).

In our previous talks, we traced the story of Naftoli and the history of his tribe up to and including the Prophetess Devorah - the most famous daughter of the Tribe of Naftoli. We now continue.

The tribe of Naftoli had an important role also in the deliverance of the Jewish people in the time of the next judge, Gideon, also known as Yerubaal. This time the Jewish people became victims of the Midianites, a barbaric tribe on the east of the Jordan River, who systematically raided Jewish settlements, especially during the harvest season. Each time they would burn the houses and fields, kill people, and make off with the produce of the land. This situation lasted for seven years. When the Jewish people, in utter despair, prayed to G‑d for a deliverer, He sent the deliverance through Gideon, a man of the Tribe of Menasheh. Gideon mobilized an army of 32,000 men, recruited from his tribe and from the tribes of Osher, Zevulun and Naftoli. However, G‑d told Gideon there was no need for such an army, since it was to be a stunningly miraculous victory. Gideon disbanded his whole army, except for 300 men who had never worshipped the Canaanite god Baal. With this small army Gideon prepared to attack a huge army of Midianites and Amalekites as numerous "as the sand of the sea shore." Gideon divided his men into three groups of one hundred men each and stationed them on three sides of the enemy's camp. He used the strategy of a cattle rustier who wishes to stampede a herd of cattle. Each of his men was "armed" with a horn and an empty pitcher in which was concealed a torch. At a given signal, when the enemy retired for the night, the men suddenly broke their pitchers, thus revealing the flaming torches, blew their horns and cried, "For G‑d and Gideon!" With their torches in the left hand and the horns in the right, they maintained their positions around the camp, shouting and blowing their horns. The deafening noise and blazing torches aroused the sleeping Midianites and Amalekites. Seized with terror they fled in utter panic, many of them attacking each other in the confusion. The victory was complete. (Judges chaps. 6 and 7).

In latter periods the Tribe of Naftoli is rarely mentioned. We find that in the last years of King David, the Nagid (Head) of the Tribe of Naftoli was a man named Yerimos, son of Azriel.

Some people of the Tribe of Naftoli apparently excelled as skillful artisans. One of them was especially famous as a brass smith in the time of King Shlomo. When the young king was constructing the Beis Hamikdosh, he sent for this man, Hiram was his name. He was a widow's son from the tribe of Naftoli. His father was a brass smith who lived in Tzor (Tyre), and Hiram inherited his skill. Hiram's mother was from the tribe of Dan. Hiram "was filled with wisdom, and understanding and skill to do all works in brass" (I Kings 7:1314). Hiram fashioned and cast the pillars and columns adorned with capitals (heads); nets of checker works, wreaths of chain work, pomegranates, etc. It was Hiram who cast the two famous pillars Yachin and Bo'az that stood on the two sides of the entrance to the Sanctuary; also the molten "Sea" resting on twelve bases; the ten lavers (from which the Kohanim washed their hands and feet before beginning their holy service); and all the holy vessels that were made of brass, in addition to those that were made of gold.

When the Jewish Kingdom was split into two: the Northern, with ten tribes, and the Southern, with the tribes of Yehuda and Binyomin, which happened during the reign of Rechavam, the son of Shlomo, Naftoli was part of the Northern Kingdom. The two kingdoms sometimes fought civil wars against each other. During one such war, during the reign of Asa of Yehudah, his counterpart, King Baasha of the Northern Tribes, formed a blockade to force Asa to surrender. The hard-pressed king of Yehudah called on Ben Hadad, King of Aram, to help him fight off Baasha. Ben Hadad then sent an army into the Northern Kingdom, which captured and ravished many cities, including the whole land of Naftoli, whereupon Baasha was forced to stop his aggression. (I Kings, 15:20).

In the year 3205 (133 years before the destruction of Jerusalem and the first Beis Harmkdosh), Shalmanesser, King of Assyria invaded the Northern Kingdom of the Ten Tribes, destroyed it, and led the inhabitants into captivity. Among them was, of course, also the Tribe of Naftoli. The ten tribes dispersed and became separated and "lost." But G‑d has promised through our Prophets that when the final Geulo will come through Moshiach, there will be an ingathering of all the tribes of our people in our Holy Land.

Of the historical land of Naftoli, there are two flourishing cities now in the Holy Land - they are the famous and holy cities of Tveria (Tiberias) on the west bank of Lake Kinneret, and Tzefas (Safed) in Northern Galilee.

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