At the end of his life, Jacob gathered his children to impart his final words and blessings.

Time and again in the book of Genesis we read about theTime and again we read about the challenge of succession challenge of succession—the difficulty of conveying an intangible, fragile idea to the next generation. Until now, tension and conflict has surrounded the succession, as generation after generation only one son is entrusted with the spiritual legacy.

Now, for the first time in Jewish history, all 12 sons of Jacob are tasked with continuing the legacy of Abraham. Each has a specific quality that will contribute critically to the Jewish story.

Jacob uses animal metaphors to describe many of his sons:

“A cub, a grown lion is Judah… He crouched, rested like a lion, and like a lion, who will rouse him?”

Issachar is a bony donkey, lying between the boundaries.”

Dan will be a serpent on the road, a viper on the path, which bites the horse's heels, so its rider falls backwards.”

Naphtali is a swift gazelle, who utters beautiful words.”

Benjamin is a wolf, he will prey; in the morning he will devour plunder, and in the evening he will divide the spoil.”1

Both beasts of prey and domesticated animals are used to describe the tribes. The wild animals represent passionate love of G‑d, while the domesticated ones—who are easily tamed—represent submission and commitment to the Divine will.

In Kabbalistic terminology, the pulse of spiritual life is both “running” and “returning.” “Running” is the yearning to escape the confines of one’s own existence; the feeling of passionate love towards G‑d. “Running” is the feeling of inspiration, but inspiration alone is like a flame without fuel. Inspiration will evaporate unless it is followed by “return”—tangible, concrete action.

Both qualities, “running” and “returning,” are necessary forBoth qualities are necessary for any human endeavor any human endeavor. A successful business requires vision, inspiration, and passionate energy (running), as well as a commitment to the necessary but tedious grunt work (returning).

The same is true about relationships. Without emotion there is no energy, no fire, no inspiration. But “running” alone is not enough. For a relationship to endure, there must be mutual commitment regardless of whether or not he or she feels inspiration in the moment.

The same is true of our relationship with G‑d. The Torah seeks to inspire us with love and awe. We begin the day with an effort to “run,” to escape the mundane, to transcend the material and connect to G‑d. Yet Judaism teaches that we must “return” to the earth to sanctify it. We must “return” with inspiration and commit to fulfilling the Divine will in this world.

Jacob gathers his children and reminds them that each of their qualities is critical to the Jewish story. We must “run,” passionate, like the lion, but also “return,” committed and dependable, like the donkey.2