Rachel had Jacob’s heart, Leah had his children.

For four long years, Rachel watched her sister give birth to son after son until she could bear it no longer. Frustrated but determined, Rachel recalled the actions of her husband’s grandmother, Sarah, and gave her handmaid, Bilhah, to be Jacob’s wife. Any children resulting from the union of Jacob and Bilhah would be raised as if they were Rachel’s children. Thus, when Bilhah bore her first son, it was Rachel who named him Dan, saying: “God has judged me. He has also heard my voice and has given me a son” (Dan is from the root of the word “to judge”).

Little is written specifically about Dan in the Torah or the Midrash. Before his death, Jacob gathered his sons and gave them each a blessing that reflected their personalities and predicted their futures. Dan actually received one of the longer and more specific blessings given by Jacob: “Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent by the road, an adder in the path, that bites the horse’s heels, so that his rider falls backward. For Your salvation do I long, God.”

According to tradition, the second half of this blessing is a direct reference to Dan’s most prominent descendant, Samson (he of the long hair, incredible strength and unfaithful lover–Delilah).

Dan had only one child, a son named Chushim. In the Talmud (Sotah 11a) we are taught that it was Chushim who cut off the head of Esau when Esau tried to stop Jacob’s burial in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. This story demonstrate’s Dan’s son’s instinct for justice. Chushim was able to assess the just solution for this situation without being swayed by Esau’s fallacious arguments.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.