Throughout the ages man has struggled to find the balance between unity and individuality. Communism was a philosophy based on unity, everyone working together. This idea could not be sustained since it neglected the individual. On the other hand Western philosophy focuses on the individual and neglect the unity. Judaism tried to find a health synthesis between these two, which is clearly portrayed in this week’s Parsha.
We have the famous scene where Yaacov on his deathbed blesses his twelve sons. The Torah begins this scene with the following verse:
“And Yaacov called for his sons and said Gather (He’usfu) together and I will tell you what will happen at the end of days. Come together (Hekavstu) and listen sons of Yaacov, Listen to Yisrael your father (Breishit 49:1,2)”
Two issues emerge from these verses;
1) Yaacov seems very focused on uniting the brothers by using 2 terms (Heusfu and Hikavstu) that denote coming together. However in the brechot themselves he highlights the individual uniqueness of each son.
2) What is the meaning of “what will happen at the end of days”? There are 2 approaches to the second issue:
a. Rashi based on the famous Gemara (Pesachim 56a) explains that Yaacov wanted to reveal to them what will happen in the end of days ie. Yemot Hamashiach. However, the Shechinah departed from him and instead he gave them the berachot.
b. Rashbam, however, seems to imply that there is no gap between what he wanted to do and what he did. “At the end of days” simply means the greatness of each tribe as described by the berachot. [Chizkuni takes a similar approach] What we see from this approach is that the destiny of each tribe was to be a unique group serving Hashem in a unique way.
Rav Hirsch explains this beautifully when he comments on the phrase Hashem told Avraham “I will make you into nations… (Breishit 17.6)”
Rav Hirsch says:
“This nation which is to walk in the van of the general mass of nations as the model nation, is itself to figure as goyim as a plurality, as several nations. It will consist of tribes, each one of which is to show its own special character (soldiers, sailors, teachers, students, husbandmen, merchants, priests, confectioners, etc.etc.) and thus demonstrate factually that the covenant of G-d, the g-dly calling of mankind, is not attached to any special profession and not hindered by any. Not lino-hearted courage, not business acumen, not the urge to study etc. etc. form the condition for, and neither are they hinderance to the mission of Abraham to mankind. A military nation like Judah, a nation of mercantile marine like Zebulun, a nation of scholarship like Issachar, of agriculture like Asher etc. etc. all are called upon to make the common calling which Judaism teaches, a reality in the activities of their different lives. No church, but a nation was what G-d wished to found with Abraham, a nation for the whole multitude of nations, that was why this nation itself was to consist of tribes with every kind of different national characteristics of Goyim.”
The chosen mishpat- the breastplate is a perfect symbol of this. Each tribe is represented by a different color. However, they were all on one breastplate together ands the verse in Shmot 28:29 highlights the fact that the breastplate was placed on the “heart of Aharon”. We all know that Aharon was a person of unity.
What emerges therefore is the following message: Each tribe is different; each one serves Hashem in a unique way. However we as a nation cannot function unless these tribes are all unified. This takes us back to the first issue in the verses. Yaacov wanted to show each son how his uniqueness will create a special tribe. However, he prefaced these berachot with a strong message of togetherness. He was thus expressing the need for this delicate balance of diversity within unity.
Today we do not have tribes but this idea can be extrapolated to the individual. Each one of us is unique and will serve Hashem in a unique way (see Rav Soloveitchik in Repentence 194-195). However the system will not work unless simultaneously we have genuine achdut-unity.