THE SONS OF JACOB--SIGNIFICANT NAMES--REUBEN'S TESTAMENT--SIMON'S ADMONITION AGAINST ENVY--THE ASCENSION OF LEVI--JUDAH WARNS AGAINST GREED AND UNCHASTITY--ISSACHAR'S SINGLENESS OF HEART--ZEBULON EXHORTS UNTO COMPASSION--DAN'S CONFESSION--NAPHTALI'S DREAMS OF THE DIVISION OF THE TRIBES--GAD'S HATRED--ASHER'S LAST WORDS--BENJAMIN EXTOLS JOSEPH
Jacob raised all his sons in the fear of God, and taught them the ways of a pious life, using severity when there was need to make his lessons impressive. He reaped the fruits of his labor, for all his sons were godly men of stainless character. The ancestors of the twelve tribes resembled their fathers in piety, and their acts were no less significant than those of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Like these three, they deserve to be called the Fathers of Israel. God made a covenant with them as He had made with the three Patriarchs, and to this covenant their descendants owe their preservation.
The very names of the tribes point to the redemption of Israel. Reuben is so called, because God "sees" the affliction of His people; Simon, because He "hears" its groaning; Levi, He "joins" Himself unto His people when Israel suffers; Judah, Israel will "thank" God for its deliverance; Issachar, it will be "rewarded" for its suffering with a recompense; Zebulon, God will have a "dwelling-place" in Israel; Benjamin, He swore by His "right hand" to succor His people; Dan, He will "judge" the nation that subjugates Israel; Naphtali, He bestowed the Torah upon Israel, and she drops sweetness like the "honeycomb"; Gad, the Lord gave manna unto Israel, and it was like "coriander" seed; Asher, all nations will call Israel "happy"; and Joseph, because God will "add" a second redemption of Israel to the first--redemption from the wicked kingdom at the end as from Egypt in former times.
Not only the names of Jacob's sons are significant, but the names of their sons as well. Thus the names of the sons of Issachar express the activities of the tribe known for its learning above all the others. The oldest was called Tola, "worm"; as the silk worm is distinguished for its mouth, with which it spins, so also the men of the tribe of Issachar for the wise words of their mouth. The second is Puah, "madder plant"; as this plant colors all things, so the tribe of Issachar colors the whole world with its teachings. The third is Jashub, "the returning one," for through the teachings of Issachar Israel will be turned back to its Heavenly Father; and Shimron, the fourth, is "the observing one," to indicate that the tribe of Issachar observes the Torah.
The names of the sons of Gad likewise interpret the history of the tribe. During Israel's sojourn in Egypt, it had strayed from the right path, but when Aaron appeared as prophet and monitor, and called unto the Israelites to cast away the abominations of their eyes and forsake the idols of Egypt, they hearkened unto his words. Hence the double name Ozni and Ezbon borne by one of the sons of Gad, for this tribe "hearkened" to the word of God, and fulfilled His "will."
The grandsons of Asher bear the names Heber and Malchiel, because they were the "associates" of kings, and their inheritance yielded "royal dainties."
Partly the history of the tribe of Benjamin can be read in the names of its chiefs. It consisted originally of ten divisions, descended from Benjamin's ten sons, but five of them perished in Egypt on account of their ungodly ways, from which no admonition availed to turn them aside. Of the five families remaining, two, the descendants of Bela and those of Ashbel, had always been God-fearing; the others, the Ahiramites, the Shephuphamites, and the Huphamites, repented of their sins, and in accordance with the change in their conduct had been the change in their names. Ehi had become Ahiram, because the breach with the "Exalted" One was healed; Muppira was called Shephupham, because they "afflicted" themselves in their penance; and Huppim was turned into Hupham, to indicate that they had "cleansed" themselves from sin. As a reward for their piety, the family springing from Bela was permitted to have two subdivisions, the Ardites and the Naamites. Their names point them out as men that know well how the fear of God is to be manifested, whose deeds are exceedingly lovely.
Naphtali was another tribe of steadfast piety, and the names of his sons testify thereto: Jahzeel, because the tribesmen raised a "partition wall" between God and the idols, inasmuch as they trusted in God and contemned the idols; Guni, because God was their "protection"; and Jezer and Shillem designate the Naphtalites as men devoted to God with all their hearts.
Two years after the death of Joseph, Reuben fell sick. Feeling that his end was nigh, he called together his sons, his grandsons, and his brethren, to give them his last admonitions from out of the fulness of his experience. He spake: "Hear, my brethren, and do ye, my children, give ear unto Reuben your father in the commands that I enjoin upon you. And, behold, I adjure you this day by the God of heaven that ye walk not in the follies of youth and the fornications to which I was addicted, and wherewith I defiled the bed of my father Jacob. For I tell you now that for seven months the Lord afflicted my loins with a terrible plague, and if my father Jacob had not interceded for me, the Lord had swept me away. I was twenty years of age when I did what was evil before the Lord, and for seven months I was sick unto death. Then I did penance for seven years in the innermost depths of my soul. Wine and strong drink I drank not, the flesh of animals passed not my lips, dainties I tasted not, because I mourned over my sins, for they were great."
He admonished those gathered around him to beware of the seven tempter spirits, which are the spirit of fornication, gluttony, strife, love of admiration, arrogance, falsehood, and injustice. He cautioned them especially against unchastity, saying: "Pay no heed to the glances of a woman, and remain not alone with a married woman, and do not occupy yourselves with the affairs of women. Had I not seen Bilhah bathe in a secluded spot, I had not fallen into the great sin I committed, for after my thoughts had once grasped the nakedness of woman, I could not sleep until I had accomplished the abominable deed. For when our father Jacob went to his father Isaac, while we sojourned in Eder, not far from Ephrath, which is Beth-lehem, Bilhah was drunken with wine, and she lay asleep, uncovered, in her bedchamber, and I entered in and saw her nakedness and committed the sin, and I went out again, leaving her asleep. But an angel of God revealed my impious act to my father Jacob at once. He came back and mourned over me, and never again did he approach Bilhah. Unto the very last day of his life, I had not the assurance to look my father in the face or to speak to my brethren regarding my disgrace, and even now my conscience tortures me on account of my sin. Nevertheless my father spake words of comfort to me, and prayed to God in my behalf, that the wrath of the Lord might depart from me, as He showed me."
Reuben admonished his children impressively to join themselves to Levi, "because he will know the law of the Lord," he said, "and he will give ordinances for judgment, and bring sacrifices for all Israel, until the consummation of the times, as the anointed high priest of whom the Lord spake."
After announcing his last will to his sons, Reuben departed this life at the age of one hundred and twenty-five years. His body was laid in a coffin until his sons bore it away from Egypt, and carried it up to Hebron, where they buried it in the Double Cave.
As Reuben confessed his sin upon his death-bed, and warned his children and his family to be on their guard against unchastity, the vice that had brought about his fall, so Simon, when he was about to die, assembled his sons around him, and confessed the sin he had committed. He had been guilty of boundless envy of Joseph, and he spoke: "I was the second son begotten by my father Jacob, and my mother Leah called me Simon, because the Lord had heard her prayer. I waxed strong, and shrank from no manner of deed, and I was afraid of naught, for my heart was hard, and my liver unyielding, and my bowels without mercy. And in the days of my youth I was jealous of Joseph, for our father loved him more than all the rest of us, and I resolved to kill him. For the prince of temptation sent the spirit of jealousy to take possession of me, and it blinded me so that I did not consider Joseph to be my brother, and I spared not even my father Jacob. But his God and the God of his fathers sent His angel and saved him out of my hands.
When I went to Shechem to fetch ointment for the herds, and Reuben was in Dothan, where all our supplies and stores were kept, our brother Judah sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites. On his return, when he heard what had happened, Reuben was very sad, for he had been desirous of saving Joseph and bringing him back to our father. But as for me, my wrath was enkindled against Judah, that he had let him escape alive. My anger abode with me all of five months. But the Lord restrained me from using the power of my hands, for my right hand withered for the length of seven days. Then I knew that what had happened was for the sake of Joseph. I repented and prayed to God to restore my hand and withhold me henceforth from all sorts of defilement, envy, and folly. For two years I gave myself up to fasting and the fear of God, for I perceived that redemption from jealousy could come only through the fear of God.
My father, seeing me downcast, asked to know the cause of my sadness, and I replied that I was suffering with my liver, but in truth I was mourning more than all my brethren, seeing that I had been the cause of Joseph's sale. And when we went down into Egypt, and Joseph bound me as a spy, I was not grieved, for I knew in my heart that my suffering was just retribution. But Joseph was good, the spirit of God dwelt within him. Compassionate and merciful as he was, he bore me no resentment for my evil deeds toward him, but he loved me with the same love he showed the others. He paid due honor to us all, and gave us gold, and cattle, and produce. And now, my dear children, do ye love one another, each one his brother, with a clean heart, and remove the spirit of jealousy from the midst of you."
Like Reuben, so also Simon adjured his sons to beware of unchastity, for this vice is the mother of all evil. It separates man from God, and abandons him to Behar. These were the closing words of his exhortation: "In the writings of Enoch I saw that your sons would be corrupted through unchastity, and they would maltreat the sons of Levi with the sword. But they will not be able to do aught against Levi, for the war he will wage is the war of the Lord, and he will vanquish all your armies. As a small remnant you will be scattered among Levi and Judah, and none among you will rise to be a judge or a king of our people, as, my father Jacob prophesied in his blessing."
Having completed his admonitions to his sons, Simon passed away and was gathered to his fathers, at the age of one hundred and twenty years. His sons placed him in a coffin made of imperishable wood, so that they might carry his bones to Hebron, as they did, in secret, during the war between the Egyptians and the Canaanites. Thus did all the tribes during the war; they took the remains each of its founder from Egypt to Hebron. Only the bones of Joseph remained in Egypt until the Israelites went out of the land, for the Egyptians guarded them in their royal treasure chambers. Their magicians had warned them that whenever Joseph's bones should be removed from Egypt, a great darkness would envelop the whole land, and it would be a dire misfortune for the Egyptians, for none would be able to recognize his neighbor even with the light of a lamp.
When it was disclosed to Levi that he was about to die, he gathered all his children around him, to tell them the story of his life, and he also prophesied unto them what they would do, and what would happen to them until the judgment day. He spoke: "When we were pasturing the flocks in Abel-Meholah, the spirit of understanding of the Lord came upon me, and I saw all mankind, how they corrupt their ways, and that injustice builds up walls for herself, and impiety sits enthroned upon the towers. And I fell to grieving over the generations of men, and I prayed to the Lord to save me. Sleep enshrouded me, and I beheld a tall mountain, and lo! the heavens opened, and an angel of God addressed me, and said: 'Levi, enter!'
"I entered the first heaven, and I saw a great sea hanging there, and farther on I saw a second heaven, brighter and more resplendent than the first. I said to the angel, 'Why is this so?' And the angel said to me, 'Marvel not at this, for thou shalt see another heaven, brilliant beyond compare, and when thou hast ascended thither, thou shalt stand near the Lord, and thou shalt be His minister, and declare His mysteries to men; and of the Lord's portion shall be thy life, and He shall be thy field and vineyard and fruits and gold and silver.'
"Then the angel explained the uses of the different heavens to me, and all that happens in each, and he proclaimed the judgment day. He opened the gates of the third heaven, where I beheld the holy Temple, and God seated upon the Throne of Glory. The Lord spake to me: 'Levi, upon thee have I bestowed the blessing of the priesthood, until I come and dwell in the midst of Israel.' Then the angel carried me back to earth, and gave me a shield and a sword, saying, 'Execute vengeance upon Shechem for Dinah, and I will be with thee, for the Lord hath sent me.' I asked the angel what his name was, and he replied: 'I am the angel that intercedes for the people of Israel, that it may not be destroyed utterly, for every evil spirit attacks it.'
"When I awoke, I betook myself to my father, and on the way, near Gebal, I found a brass shield, such as I had seen in my dream. Then I advised my father and my brother Reuben to bid the sons of Hamor circumcise themselves, for I was quivering with rage on account of the abominable deed they had done. I slew Shechem first of all, and then Simon slew Hamor, and all my other brothers came out and destroyed the whole city. Our father took this in ill part, and in his blessing he remembered our conduct. Although we did a wrong thing in acting thus against his wishes, yet I recognized it to be the judgment of God upon the people of Shechem on account of their sins, and I said to my father: 'Be not wroth, my lord, for God will exterminate the Canaanites through this, and he will give the land to thee and to thy seed after thee. Henceforth Shechem will be called the city of imbeciles, for as a fool is mocked at, so have we made a mockery of them.'
"When we journeyed to Beth-lehem, and had been abiding there for seventy days, another vision was vouchsafed me, like unto the former. I saw seven men clad in white, and they spake to me, saying: 'Rise up, and array thyself in the priestly garments, set the crown of righteousness upon thy head, and put on the ephod of understanding, and the robe of truth, and the mitre-plate of faith, and the mitre of dignity, and the shoulderpieces of prophecy.' And each of the men brought a garment unto me and invested me therewith, and spake: 'Henceforth be the priest of the Lord, thou and thy seed unto eternity. And ye shall eat all that is lovely to look upon, and the table of the Lord thy descendants will appropriate for themselves, and from them will come high priests, judges, and scholars, for all that is holy will be guarded by their mouth.'
"Two days after I was visited by this dream, Judah and I repaired to our grandfather Isaac, who blessed me in accordance with the words I had heard. Jacob also had a vision, and he saw, too, that I was appointed to be the priest of God, and through me he set apart a tenth of his possessions unto the Lord. And when we established ourselves in Hebron, the residence of Isaac, our grandfather taught me the law of the priesthood, and admonished me to hold myself aloof from unchastity.
At the age of twenty-eight years I took Milcah to wife, and she bore me a son, and I named him Gershom, because we were strangers in the land. But I perceived he would not be in the first ranks of men. My second son was born unto me in my thirty-fifth year, and he saw the light of the world at sunrise, and I beheld him in a vision standing among the proud of the assembly, and therefore I gave him the name Kohath. The third son my wife bore me in the fortieth year of my life, and I called his name Merari, because bitter had been her travail in bearing him. My daughter Jochebed was born in Egypt, when I was sixty-three years old, and I called her thus because I was known honorably among my brethren in those days. And in my ninety-fourth year, Amram took Jochebed to wife, he that was born on the same day with her."
Thereupon Levi admonished his children to walk in the ways of the Lord, and fear Him with all their heart, and he told them what he had learnt from the writings of Enoch, that his descendants would sin against the Lord in times to come, and they would suffer the Divine punishment for their transgression, and then God would raise up a new priest, unto whom all the words of the Lord would be revealed. His last words were: "And now, my children, ye have heard all I have to say. Choose, now, light or darkness, the law of the Lord or the works of Beliar." And his sons made answer, "Before the Lord we will walk according to His law." Then Levi spake, "The Lord is witness and the angels are witnesses, I am witness and ye are witnesses, concerning the word of your mouth." And his sons replied, "We are witnesses."
Thus Levi ceased to admonish his sons. He stretched out his feet, and was gathered unto his fathers, at the age of one hundred and thirty-seven years, a greater age than any of his brethren attained.
The last words addressed by Judah to his sons were the following: "I was the fourth son begotten by my father, and my mother called me Judah, saying, 'I thank the Lord that He hath given me a fourth son.' I was zealous in my youth and obedient to my father in all things. When I grew up to manhood, he blessed me, saying, 'Thou wilt be king, and wilt prosper in all thy ways.' The Lord granted me His grace in whatever I undertook, in the field and in the house. I could speed as swiftly as the hind, and overtake it, and prepare a dish of it for my father. A deer I could catch on the run, and all the animals of the valley. A wild mare I could outstrip, hold it, and bridle it. A lion I slew, and snatched a kid from its jaws. A bear I caught by the paw, and flung it adown the cliff, and it lay beneath crushed. I could keep pace with the wild boar, and overtake it, and as I ran I seized it, and tore it to pieces. A leopard sprang at my dog in Hebron, and I grasped its tail, and hurled it away from me, and its body burst on the coast at Gaza. A wild steer I found grazing in the field. I took it by its horns, swung it round and round until it was stunned, and then I cast it to the ground and killed it."
Judah continued and told his children of his heroism in the wars that the sons of Jacob had waged with the kings of Canaan and with Esau and his family. In all these conflicts he bore a distinguished part, beyond the achievements of the others. His father Jacob was free from all anxiety when Judah was with his brethren in their combats, because he had had a vision showing him an angel of strength standing at the side of Judah on all his ways.
Judah did not conceal his shortcomings, either. He confessed how drunkenness and passion had betrayed him first into marriage with a Canaanitish woman, and then into improper relations with his daughter-in-law Tamar. He said to his children:
"Do not walk after the desire of your hearts, and vaunt not the valiant deeds of your youth. This, too, is evil in the eyes of the Lord. For while I boasted that the face of a beautiful woman had never allured me in the wars, and reviled my brother Reuben for his transgression with Bilhah, the spirit of passion and unchastity gained possession of me, and I took Bath-shua to wife, and trespassed with Tamar, though she was the affianced of my son. First I said to Bath-shua's father, 'I will take counsel with my father Jacob, to know whether I should marry thy daughter,' but he was a king, and he showed me an untold heap of gold accredited to his daughter, and he adorned her with the magnificence of women, in gold and pearls, and he bade her pour the wine at the meal. The wine turned my eyes awry, and passion darkened my heart. In mad love for her, I violated the command of the Lord and the will of my father, and I took her to wife. The Lord gave me a recompense according to the counsel of my heart, for I had no joy in the sons she bore me.
"And now, my children, I pray you, do not intoxicate yourselves with wine, for wine twists the understanding away from the truth, and confuses the sight of the eyes. Wine led me astray, so that I felt no shame before the throngs of people in the city, and I turned aside and went in to Tamar in the presence of them, and committed a great sin. And though a man be a king, if he leads an unchaste life, he loses his kingship. I gave Tamar my staff, which is the stay of my tribe, and my girdle-cord, which is power, and my signet-diadem, which is the glory of my kingdom. I did penance for all this, and unto old age I drank no wine, and ate no flesh, and knew no sort of pleasure. Wine causes the secret things of God and man to be revealed unto the stranger. Thus did I disclose the commands of the Lord and the mysteries of my father Jacob to the Canaanite woman Bath-shua, though God had forbidden me to betray them. I also enjoin you not to love gold, and not to look upon the beauty of women, for through money and through beauty I was led astray to Bath-shua the Canaanite. I know that my stock will fall into misery through these two things, for even the wise men among my sons will be changed by them, and the consequence will be that the kingdom of Judah will be diminished, the domain that the Lord gave me as a reward for my obedient conduct toward my father, for never did I speak in contradiction of him, but I did all things according to his words. And Isaac, my father's father, blessed me with the blessing that I should be ruler in Israel, and I know that the kingdom will arise from me. In the books of Enoch the just I read all the evil that ye will do in the latter days. Only beware, my children, of unchastity and greed, for love of gold leads to idolatry, causing men to call them gods that are none, and dethroning the reason of man. On account of gold I lost my children, and had I not mortified my flesh, and humbled my soul, and had not my father Jacob offered up prayers for me, I had died childless. But the God of my fathers, the merciful and gracious One, saw that I had acted unwittingly, for the ruler of deception had blinded me, and I was ignorant, being flesh and blood, and corrupt through sins, and in the moment when I considered myself invincible, I recognized my weakness."
Then Judah revealed to his sons, in clear, brief words, the whole history of Israel until the advent of the Messiah, and his final speech was: "My children, observe the whole law of the Lord; in it is hope for all that keep His ways. I die this day at the age of one hundred and nineteen years before your eyes. None shall bury me in a costly garment, nor shall ye cut my body to embalm it, but ye shall carry me to Hebron."
Having spoken these words, Judah sank into death.
When Issachar felt his end approach, he summoned his sons, and he said to them: "Hearken, my children, unto your father Issachar, and listen to the words of him that is beloved of the Lord. I was born unto Jacob as his fifth son, as a reward for the dudaim. Reuben brought the dudaim from the field. They were fragrant apples, which grew in the land of Haran upon an eminence below a gully. Rachel met Reuben, and she took the dudaim away from him. The lad wept, and his cries brought his mother Leah to his side, and she addressed Rachel thus: 'Is it a small matter that thou hast taken away my husband? and wouldst thou take away my son's dudaim also?' And Rachel said, 'See, Jacob shall be thine to-night for thy son's dudaim.' But Leah insisted, 'Jacob is mine, and I am the wife of his youth,' whereupon Rachel, 'Be not boastful and overweening. To me he was betrothed first, and for my sake he served our father fourteen years. Thou art not his wife, thou wast taken to him by cunning instead of me, for our father deceived me, and put me out of the way the night of thy nuptials, so that Jacob could not see me. Nevertheless, give me the dudaim, and thou mayest have Jacob for a night.'
"Then Leah bore me, and I was called Issachar, on account of the reward Rachel had given to my mother. At that time an angel of the Lord appeared to Jacob, and he spoke: 'Rachel will bear only two sons, for she rejected the espousal of her husband, and chose continence! But Leah bore six sons, for the Lord knew that she desired to be with her husband, not because she was prompted by the evil inclination, but for the sake of children. Rachel's prayer also was fulfilled, on account of the dudaim, for although she desired to eat of the apples, she did not touch them, but put them in the house of the Lord, and gave them to the priest of the Most High that was in those days.
"When I grew up, my children, I walked in the integrity of my heart, and I became a husbandman, cultivating the land for my father and my brethren, and I gathered the fruit from the fields in their due time. My father blessed me, because he saw that I walked in singleness of heart. I was not married to a wife until I was thirty years old, for the hard work I did consumed my strength, and I had no desire unto woman, but, overwhelmed by fatigue, I would sink into sleep. My father was well pleased at all times with my rectitude. If my work was crowned with good results, I brought the firstfruits of my labor to the priest of the Lord, the next harvest went to my father, and then I thought of myself. The Lord doubled the possessions in my hand, and Jacob knew that God aided me for the sake of my singleness of heart, for in my sincerity I gave of the produce of the land to the poor and the needy.
"And now hearken unto me, my children, and walk in singleness of heart, for upon it resteth the favor of the Lord at all times. The simple man longeth not for gold, he doth not defraud his neighbor, he hath no desire for meats and dainties of many kinds, he careth not for sumptuous dress, he hopeth not for long life, he waiteth only upon the will of God. The spirits of deception have no power over him, for he looketh not upon the beauty of woman, lest he defile his understanding with corruption. Jealousy cometh not into his thoughts, envy doth not sear his soul, and insatiable greed doth not make him look abroad for rich gain. Now, then, my children, observe the law of the Lord, attain to simplicity, and walk in singleness of heart, without meddling with the affairs of others. Love the Lord and love your neighbors, have pity upon the poor and the feeble, bow your backs to till the ground, occupy yourselves with work upon the land, and bring gifts unto the Lord in gratitude. For the Lord hath blessed you with the best of the fruits of the field, as he hath blessed all the saints from Abel down to our day.
"Know, my children, that in the latter time your sons will abandon the paths of probity, and will be ruled by greed. They will forsake rectitude and practice craft, they will depart from the commands of the Lord and follow after Beliar, they will give up husbandry and pursue their evil plans, they will be scattered among the heathen and serve their enemies. Tell this unto your children, so that, if they sin, they may repent speedily, and return to the Lord, for He is merciful, and He will take them out to bring them back unto their land.
"I am one hundred and twenty-two years old, and I can discern no sin in myself. Save my wife, I have known no woman. I was guilty of no unchastity through the lifting up of eyes. I drank no wine, that I might not be led astray, I did not covet what belonged to my neighbor, guile had no place in my heart, lies did not pass my lips. I sighed along with all that were heavy-laden, and to the poor I gave my bread. I loved the Lord with all my might, and mankind I also loved. Do ye likewise, my children, and all the spirits of Beliar will flee from you, no deed done by the wicked will have power over you, and ye will vanquish all the wild beasts, for ye have with you the Lord of heaven."
And Issachar bade his children carry him up to Hebron, and bury him there by his fathers in the Cave, and he stretched out his feet, and fell into the sleep of eternity, full of years, healthy of limb, and in the possession of all his faculties.
When Zebulon attained the age of one hundred and fourteen years, which was two years after the death of Joseph, he called his sons together, and admonished them, in these words, to lead a life of piety: "I am Zebulon, a precious gift for my parents, for when I was born, my father became very rich, by means of the streaked rods, in herds of sheep and herds of cattle. I am conscious of no sin in me, and I remember no wrong done by me, unless it be the unwitting sin committed against Joseph, in that I did not, out of consideration for my brethren, disclose to my father what had happened to his favorite son, though in secret I mourned exceedingly. I feared my brethren, because they had agreed that he who betrayed the secret should be slain with the sword. When they planned to kill Joseph, I besought them amid tears not to sin thus.
"And now, my children, hearken unto me. I exhort you to observe the commands of the Lord, and have mercy upon your neighbors, and act compassionately, not only toward men, but also toward dumb brutes. For on account of my mercifulness the Lord blessed me; all my brethren fell sick at one time or another, but I escaped without any illness. Also the sons of my brethren had to endure disease, and they were nigh unto death for the sake of Joseph, because they had no pity in their hearts. But my sons were preserved in perfect health, as ye well know. And when I was in Canaan, catching fish at the shores of the sea for my father Jacob, many were drowned in the waters of the sea, but I came away unharmed. For ye must know that I was the first to build a boat for rowing upon the sea, and I plied along the coasts in it, and caught fish for my father's household, until we went down into Egypt. Out of pity I would share my haul with the poor stranger, and if he was sick or well on in years, I would prepare a savory dish for him, and I gave unto each according to his needs, sympathizing with him in his distress and having pity upon him. Therefore the Lord brought numerous fish to my nets, for he that gives aught to his neighbor, receives it back from the Lord with great increase. For five years I fished in the summer, and in the winter I pastured the flocks with my brethren.
"Now, my children, have pity and compassion on all men, that the Lord may have pity and compassion on you, for in the measure in which man has mercy with his fellow-men, God has mercy with him. When we came down into Egypt, Joseph did not visit upon us the wrong he had suffered. Take him as your model, and remember not a wrong done unto you, else unity is rent asunder, and the bonds of kinship are torn, and the soul is disquieted. Observe the water! If it runs on undivided, it carries down stone, wood, and sand along with it. But if it is divided and flows through many channels, the earth sucks it up, and it loses its force. If you separate, one from the other, you will be like divided waters. Be not cleft into two heads, for all that the Lord hath made has but one head. He has given two shoulders unto his creatures, two hands, and two feet, but all these organs obey one head."
Zebulon ended his exhortation unto unity with an account of the divisions in Israel, whereof he had read in the writings of the fathers, that they would come about in future days, and bring sore suffering upon Israel. However, he spoke encouraging words to his children, saying: "Be not grieved over my death, and do not lose heart at my departure from you, for I shall arise again in the midst of you, and I shall live joyously among the people of my tribe, those who observe the law of the Lord. As for the godless, the Lord will bring everlasting fire down upon them, and exterminate them unto all generations. Now I hasten hence unto my eternal rest with my fathers. But ye, fear ye the Lord your God with all your might all the days of your life."
Having made an end of saying these words, he sank into the sleep of death, and his sons put him into a coffin, wherein they carried him up to Hebron later, to bury him there next to his fathers.
When Dan assembled his family at the last of his life, he spake: "I confess before you this day, my children, that I had resolved to kill Joseph, that good and upright man, and I rejoiced over his sale, for his father loved him more than he loved the rest of us. The spirit of envy and boastfulness goaded me on, saying, 'Thou, too, art the son of Jacob,' and one of the spirits of Behar stirred me up, saying, 'Take this sword, and slay Joseph, for once he is dead thy father will love thee.' It was the spirit of anger that was seeking to persuade me to crush Joseph, as a leopard crunches a kid between its teeth. But the God of our father Jacob did not deliver him into my hand, to let me find him alone, and He did not permit me to execute this impious deed, that two tribes in Israel might not be destroyed.
"And now, my children, I am about to die, and I tell it unto you in truth, if you take not heed against the spirit of lies and anger, and if ye love not truth and generosity, you will perish. The spirit of anger casts the net of error around its victim, and it blinds his eyes, and the spirit of lies warps his mind, and clouds his vision. Evil is anger, it is the grave of the soul. Desist from anger and hate lies, that the Lord may dwell among you, and Behar flee from your presence. Speak the truth each unto his neighbor, and you will not fall into anger and trouble, but you will be at peace, and the Lord of peace you will have with you, and no war will vanquish you.
"I speak thus, for I know that in the latter days you will fall off from God, and you will kindle the wrath of Levi, and rise in rebellion against Judah, but you will not accomplish aught against them, for the angel of the Lord is their guide, and Israel will perish through them. And if you turn recreant to the Lord, you will execute every kind of evil thing, and do the abominations of the heathen, committing unchastity with the wives of the godless, while the tempter spirits are at work among you. Therefore you will be carried away into captivity, and in the lands of exile you will suffer all the plagues of Egypt and all the tribulations of the heathen. But when you return to the Lord, you will find mercy. He will take you into His sanctuary, and grant you peace.
"And now, my children, fear the Lord, and be on your guard against Satan and his spirits. Keep aloof from every evil deed, cast anger away from you and every sort of lie, love truth and forbearance, and what ye have heard from your father, tell unto your children. Avoid all manner of unrighteousness, cling to the integrity of the law of the Lord, and bury me near my fathers."
Having spoken these words, he kissed his children, and fell asleep.
In the hundred and thirty-second year of his life, Naphtali invited all his children to a banquet. The next morning when he awoke, he told them that he was dying, but they would not believe him. He, however, praised the Lord, and assured them again that his death was due after the banquet of the day before. Then he addressed his last words to his children:
"I was born of Bilhah, and because Rachel had acted with cunning, and had given Jacob Bilhah instead of herself, I was called Naphtali. Rachel loved me, for I was born upon her knees, and while I was still very young, she was in the habit of kissing me and saying, 'O that I had a brother unto thee from mine own body, one in thine image.' Therefore Joseph resembled me in all respects, in accordance with Rachel's prayer. My mother Bilhah was a daughter of Rotheus, a brother of Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, and she was born the same day as Rachel. As for Rotheus, he was of the family of Abraham, a Chaldean, God-fearing, and a free man of noble birth, and when he was taken captive, he was bought by Laban and married to his slave Aina. She bore Rotheus a daughter, and he called her Zilpah, after the name of the village in which he was taken captive. His second daughter he called Bilhah, saying, 'My daughter is impetuous,' for hardly was she born when she hastened to suckle.
"I was fleet of foot like a deer, and my father Jacob appointed me to be his messenger, and in his blessing he called me a hind let loose. As the potter knows the vessel he fashions, how much it is to hold, and uses clay accordingly, so the Lord makes the body in conformity with the soul, and to agree with the capacity of the body He plans the soul. The one corresponds to the other down to the third of a hair-breadth, for the whole of creation was made by weight, and measure, and rule. And as the potter knows the use of every vessel he fashions, so the Lord knows the body of His creature, unto what point it will be steadfast in the good, and at what point it will fall into evil ways. Now, then, my children, let your conduct be well-ordered unto good in the fear of God, do naught that is ill-regulated or untimely, for though ye tell your eye to hear, it yet cannot, and as little can ye do deeds of light while you abide in darkness."
Furthermore Naphtali said unto his children: "I give you no command concerning my silver, or my gold, or any other possession that I bequeath to you. And what I command you is not a hard matter, which you cannot do, but I speak unto you concerning an easy thing, which you can execute." Then his sons answered, and said, "Speak, father, for we are listening to thy words." Naphtali continued: "I give you no commandment except regarding the fear of God, that you should serve Him and follow after Him." Then the sons of Naphtali asked: "Wherefore does He require our service?" and he replied, saying: "He needs no creature, but all creatures need Him. Nevertheless He hath not created the world for naught, but that men should fear Him, and none should do unto his neighbor what he would not have others do unto him." His sons asked again, "Father, hast thou observed that we strayed from the ways of the Lord to the right or to the left?" Naphtali replied: "God is witness, and so am I witness for you, that it is as you say. But I fear regarding future times, that you may depart from the ways of the Lord, and follow after the idols of the stranger, and walk in the statutes of the heathen peoples, and join yourselves unto the sons of Joseph instead of the sons of Levi and Judah." The sons of Naphtali spoke, "What reason hast thou for commanding this thing unto us?" Naphtali: "Because I know that the sons of Joseph will one day turn recreant to the Lord, the God of their fathers, and it is they that will lead the sons of Israel into sin, and cause them to be driven away from their inheritance, their beautiful land, to a land that is not ours, even as it was Joseph that brought the Egyptian bondage down upon us.
"I will tell ye, my children, the vision I had while I was yet a shepherd of flocks. I saw my brethren pasturing the herds with me, and our father approached, and said: 'Up, my sons, each one take what he can in my presence!' We answered, and said to him, 'What shall we take? We see nothing but the sun, the moon, and the stars.' Then our father said: 'These shall ye take!' Levi, hearing this, snatched up an ox-goad, sprang up to the sun, sat upon him, and rode. Judah did likewise. He jumped up to the moon, and rode upon her. And the other nine tribes did the same, each rode upon his star or his planet in the heavens. Joseph remained behind alone on the earth, and our father Jacob said to him, 'My son, why hast thou not done like thy brethren?' Joseph answered, 'What right have men born of woman to be in the heavens, seeing that in the end they must stay on earth?' While Joseph was speaking thus, a tall steer appeared before him. He had great pinions like the wings of the stork, and his horns were as long as those of the reem. Jacob urged his son, 'Up, Joseph, mount the steer!' Joseph did as his father bade him, and Jacob went his way. For the space of two hours Joseph displayed himself upon the steer, sometimes galloping, sometimes flying, until he reached Judah. Then Joseph unfolded the standard in his hand, and began to rain blows down upon Judah with it, and when his brother demanded the reason for this treatment, he said, 'Because thou hast twelve rods in thine hand, and I have but one. Give thine to me, and peace shall prevail between us!' But Judah refused to do his bidding, and Joseph beat him until he dropped ten rods, and only two remained in his clutch. Joseph now invited his brethren to abandon Judah and follow after him. They all did thus, except Benjamin, who stayed true to Judah. Levi was grieved over the desertion of Judah, and he descended from the sun. Toward the end of the day a storm broke out, and it scattered the brethren, so that no two were together. When I gave an account of my vision to my father Jacob, he said, 'It is but a dream, it can neither help nor harm.'
"A short while thereafter another vision was revealed to me. I saw all of us together with our father at the shores of the sea, and a ship appeared in the midst of the sea, and it had neither sailors nor other crew. Our father spake, 'Do you see what I see?' And when we answered that we did, he commanded us to follow him. He took off his clothes, and sprang into the sea, and we sprang after him. Levi and Judah were the first to scale the side of the ship. Our father cried after them, 'See what is written upon the mast,' for there is no ship that does not bear the name of the owner upon the mast. Levi and Judah scrutinized the writing, and what they read was this, 'This ship and all the treasures therein belong unto the son of Barachel.' Jacob thanked God for having blessed him, not only on land, but also upon the sea, and he said to us, 'Stretch forth your hands, and whatsoever each one seizes shall be his!' Levi caught hold of the big mast, Judah of the second mast, next to Levi's, and the other brethren, with the exception of Joseph, took the oars, and Jacob himself seized the two rudders, wherewith to guide the ship. He bade Joseph take an oar, too, but he refused to do his father's bidding, and Jacob gave him one of the rudders. After our father had instructed us each one in what we had to do, he disappeared, whereupon Joseph took possession of the second rudder, too. All went smoothly for a time, as long as Judah and Joseph acted together in harmony with each other, and Judah kept Joseph informed in what direction to steer. But a quarrel broke out between them, and Joseph did not guide the vessel in the way his father had commanded him, and Judah attempted to direct him, and the vessel was wrecked upon a rock. Levi and Judah descended from the masts, and likewise the other brethren left the ship and escaped to the shore. At this moment Jacob appeared, and he found us scattered in all directions, and we reported to him how Joseph had caused the vessel to run aground, because he had refused, out of jealousy of Judah and Levi, to steer it according to their instructions. Then Jacob asked us to show him the spot where we had lost the ship, of which only the masts were visible above the water. He emitted a whistle summoning us all, and he swam out into the water, and raised the vessel as before. Turning to Joseph, he spake thus, 'My son, never do that again, never permit jealousy of thy brethren to master thee. Nearly it happened that all thy brethren perished because of thee.'
"When I told my father what I had seen in this vision, he clasped his hands, and tears flowed from his eyes, and be said: 'My son, for that the vision was doubled unto thee twice, I am dismayed, and I shudder for my son Joseph. I loved him more than all of you, but by reason of his perverseness ye will be carried away into captivity, and scattered among the nations. Thy first and thy second vision had the same meaning, the vision is one.'
"Therefore, my sons, I command you not to join yourselves unto the sons of Joseph, but ye shall join yourselves unto the sons of Levi and Judah. I tell you, too, that my inheritance shall be of the best of Palestine, the middle of the earth. You will eat, and the delectable gifts of my portion will satisfy you. But I warn you not to kick in your prosperity and not to become perverse, resisting the commands of God, who satisfies you with the best of His land, and not to forget your God, whom your father Abraham chose when the families of the earth were divided in the days of Peleg. The Lord descended with seventy angels, at their head Michael, and he commanded them to teach the seventy languages unto the seventy families of Noah. The angels did according to the behest of God, and the holy Hebrew language remained only in the house of Shem and Eber, and in the house of their descendant Abraham. On this day of teaching languages, Michael came to each nation separately, and told it the message with which God had charged him, saying: 'I know the rebellion and the confusion ye have enacted against God. Now, make choice of him whom you will serve, and whom will you have as your mediator in heaven?' Then spake Nimrod the wicked, 'In my eyes there is none greater than he that taught me the language of Cush.' The other nations also answered in words like these, each one designated its angel. But Abraham said: 'I choose none other than Him that spake and the world was. In Him I will have faith, and my seed forever and ever.' Thenceforth God put every nation in the care of its angel, but Abraham and his seed He kept for Himself.
"Therefore I adjure you not to go astray and serve other gods beside Him whom our fathers made choice of. You can perceive somewhat of His power in the creation of man. From head to foot is man wonderfully made. With his ears he hears, with his eyes he sees, with his brain he comprehends, with his nose he smells, with the tubes of his throat he utters sounds, with his gullet he swallows food, with his tongue he articulates, with his mouth he forms words, with his hands he does his work, with his heart he meditates, with his spleen he laughs, with his liver he waxes angry, with his stomach he crushes his food, with his feet he walks, with his lungs he breathes, and with his kidneys he makes resolves, and none of his organs undergoes a change in function, each performs its own. Therefore it behooves man to take to heart who it is that hath created him, and who hath developed him from a foul-smelling drop in the womb of woman, who hath brought him to the light of the world, who hath given sight to his eyes, and who hath bestowed the power of motion upon his feet, who maketh him to stand upright, who hath infused the breath of life into him, and who hath imparted of His own pure spirit unto him. Happy the man, therefore, that polluteth not the holy spirit of God within him by doing evil deeds, and well for him if he returns it to his Creator as he received it."
After Naphtali had charged his children thus, and with many other lessons like these, he enjoined them to carry his remains to Hebron, to be buried there near his fathers. Then he ate and drank with rejoicing, covered his face, and died, and his sons did according to all that their father Naphtali had commanded them.
In the hundred and twenty-fifth year of his life Gad assembled his sons, and he spake to them: "I am the ninth son of Jacob, and I was a valiant shepherd of the flocks. I guarded the herds, and when a lion or any other wild beast approached, I pursued it, gripped it by the foot, flung it a stone's throw from me, and killed it thus. Once, for a space of thirty days, Joseph tended the flocks with us, and when he returned to our father, he told him that the sons of Zilpah and Bilhah slaughtered the best of the herds, and used the flesh without the knowledge of Reuben and Judah. He had seen me snatch a lamb out of the jaws of a bear, kill the bear, and slaughter the lamb, for it was too badly injured to live. I was wroth with Joseph for his talebearing, until he was sold into Egypt. I would neither look upon him nor hear aught about him, for to our very faces he, blamed us, because we had eaten the lamb without seeking the permission of Judah first. And whatever Joseph told our father, he believed.
"Now I confess my sin, that ofttimes I longed to kill him, for I hated him from the bottom of my heart, and on account of his dreams I hated him still more, and I desired to destroy him from off the land of the living. But Judah sold him by stealth to the Ishmaelites. Thus the God of our fathers saved him out of our hands, and He did not permit us to commit an abominable outrage in Israel.
"Hear now, my children, the words of truth, that ye may practice justice and the whole law of the Most High, and permit yourselves not to be tempted by the spirit of hatred. Evil is hatred, for it is the constant companion of deception, it always contradicts the truth. A little thing it magnifies into a great thing, light it takes for darkness, the sweet it calls bitter, and it teaches slander, enkindles anger, brings on war and violence, and fills the heart with devilish poison. I tell you my own experience, my children, that ye may drive hatred out of your hearts, and cleave to the love of the Lord. Righteousness banishes hatred, and humility kills it, for he that fears to give umbrage to the Lord, desires not to do wrong even in his thoughts. This is what I recognized at the last, after I had done penance on account of Joseph, for true atonement, pleasing to God, enlightens the eyes, illumines the soul with knowledge, and creates a counsel of salvation. My penance came in consequence of a sickness of the liver that God inflicted upon me. Without the prayers of my father Jacob, my spirit would have departed from me, for through the organ wherewith man transgresses, he is punished. As my liver had felt no mercy for Joseph, unmerciful suffering was caused unto me by my liver. My judgment lasted eleven months, as long as my enmity toward Joseph.
"And now, my children, each of you shall love his brother, and ye shall uproot hatred from your hearts by loving one another in word and deed and the thoughts of the soul. For I spake peaceably with Joseph in the presence of our father, but when I went out from before him, the spirit of hatred darkened my understanding, and stirred up my soul to murder him. If you see one that hath more good fortune than you, do not grieve, but pray for him, that his happiness may be perfect, and if one of the wicked even should grow rich in substance, like Esau, my father's brother, do not envy him. Wait for the end of the Lord.
"This also tell unto your children, that they shall honor Judah and Levi, for from them the Lord will cause a savior to arise unto Israel. For I know that in the end your children will fall off from God, and they will take part in all wickedness, malice, and corruptness, before the Lord."
After Gad had rested a little while, he spake again, "My children, hearken unto your father, and bury me with my fathers." Then he drew up his feet, and slept in peace. After five years, his sons carried his remains to Hebron unto his fathers.
In the hundred and twenty-fifth year of his life, while be was still robust in health, Asher summoned his children unto him, and admonished them to walk in the ways of virtue and the fear of God. He spake: "Hearken, ye sons of Asher, unto your father, and I will show you all that is right before God. Two ways hath God put before the children of men, and two inclinations hath He bestowed upon them, two kinds of actions and two aims. Therefore all things are in twos, the one opposite to the other. But ye, my children, ye shall not be double, pursuing both goodness and wickedness. Ye shall cling only to the ways of goodness, for the Lord taketh delight in them, and men yearn after them. And flee from wickedness, for thus you will destroy the evil inclination. Heed well the commands of the Lord, by following truth with a single mind. Observe the law of the Lord, and have not the same care for wicked things as for good things. Rather keep your eyes upon what is truly good, and guard it through all the commands of the Lord. The end of man, when he meets the messengers of God and of Satan, shows whether he was righteous or unrighteous in his life. If his soul goes out with agitation, she will be plagued by the evil spirit, whom she served with her lusts and her evil deeds; but if she departs tranquilly, the angel of peace will lead her to life eternal.
"Be not like Sodom, my children, which recognized not the angels of the Lord, that ye be not delivered into the hands of your enemies, and your land be cursed, and your sanctuary destroyed, and you be scattered to the four corners of the earth, and scorned in the confusion like stale water, until the Most High shall visit the earth, and break the heads of the dragons in the waters. Tell this, my sons, unto your children, that they be not disobedient toward God, for I read in the tablets of the heavens that you will be contumacious and act impiously toward Him, in that you will have no care for the law of God, but you will heed human laws, and they are corrupted by reason of man's godlessness. Therefore ye will be dispersed abroad like unto Gad and Dan, my brethren, and you will not know either your land, or your tribe, or your tongue. Nevertheless the Lord will gather you in His faithfulness, for the sake of His gracious mercy, and for the sake of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."
And when he had made an end of saying these words, he commanded them to bury him in Hebron. And he sank into sweet sleep, and died. His sons did as he had commanded, and they carried him up and buried him with his fathers.
Benjamin was one hundred and twenty-five years old, and he called his children to come to him. When they appeared, he kissed them, and spake: "As Isaac was born unto Abraham in his old age, so was I born unto Jacob when he was stricken in years. Therefore I was called Benjamin, 'the son of days.' My mother Rachel died at my birth, and Bilhah her slave suckled me. Rachel had no children for twelve years after bearing Joseph. Therefore she prayed to God, and fasted twelve days, and she conceived and bare me. Our father loved Rachel fondly, and he had longed greatly to have two sons by her.
"When I came down to Egypt, and my brother Joseph recognized me, he asked me, 'What said my brethren to my father regarding me?' And I told him that they had sent Jacob his coat stained with blood, and had said, 'Know now whether this be thy son's coat or not.' And Joseph said: 'This is what happened to me. Canaanitish merchantmen stole me away with violence, and on the way they wanted to hide my coat, to make it seem as though a wild beast had met me and slain me. But he who was about to conceal it, was torn by a lion, whereupon his companions, in great fear, sold me to the Ishmaelites. My brethren, thou seest, did not deceive my father with a lie.' In this wise Joseph tried to keep the deed of our brethren a secret from me. He also summoned my brethren, and enjoined them not to make known to our father what they had done to him, and bade them repeat the tale he had told me.
"Now, my children, love ye the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, and observe His commandments, taking that good and pious man Joseph as your model. Until the day of his death he would not have divulged what his brethren had done to him, and although God revealed their action to Jacob, he continued to deny it. Only after many efforts, when Jacob adjured him to confess the truth, he was induced to speak out. Even then he besought our father Jacob to pray for our brethren, that God account not the evil they had done to him as a sin. And Jacob exclaimed, 'O my good child Joseph, thou hast shown thyself more merciful than I was!'
"My children, have you observed the mercy of the good man? Imitate it with pure intention, that ye, too, may wear crowns of glory. A good man has not an envious eye, he has mercy with all, even with sinners, though their evil designs be directed against him, and by his good deeds he conquers the evil, since it was ordained of God. If you do good, the unclean spirits will depart from you, and even the wild beasts will stand in fear of you. The inclination of a good man lies not in the power of the tempter spirit Behar, for the angel of peace guides his soul. Flee before the malice of Beliar, whose sword is drawn to slay all that pay him obedience, and his sword is the mother of seven evils, bloodshed, corruptness, error, captivity, hunger, panic, and devastation. Therefore God surrendered Cain to seven punishments. Once in a hundred years the Lord brought a castigation upon him. His afflictions began when he was two hundred years old, and in his nine hundredth year he was destroyed by the deluge, for having slain his righteous brother Abel. And those who are like unto Cain will be chastised forever with the same punishments as his.
"Know now, my children, that I am about to die. Practice truth and righteousness, and observe the law of the Lord and also His commandments. This I bequeath unto you as your sole heritage, and you shall leave it to your children as an eternal possession. Thus Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did, they transmitted it unto us, saying, 'Observe the commands of God, until the Lord shall reveal His salvation in the sight of all the heathen.' Then you will see Enoch, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob rise up with rejoicing to new life at the right hand of God, and we brethren, the sons of Jacob, will arise also, each of us at the head of his tribe, and we will pay homage to the King of the heavens."
After Benjamin had made an end of speaking thus, he said: "I command you, my children, to carry my bones up out of Egypt and bury me near my fathers."
And when he had made an end of saying these things, he fell asleep at a good old age, and they put his body into a coffin, and in the ninety-first year of their sojourning in Egypt, his sons and the sons of his brethren brought up the bones of their father, in secret, and buried them in Hebron, at the feet of their fathers. Then they returned from the land of Canaan, and they dwelt in Egypt until the day of the exodus from the land.
Legends of the Jews [Table of Contents]
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