One of the interesting things to note in this week’s Torah portion about the count of Jews is the comparison in numbers of two tribes. Binyaman and Dan – two brothers who started out with different counts of kids. Binyamin had the most children – Dan had only one deaf son – when they started out life. Now, at the count before going into Israel – Binyamon has less descendants than Dan.
The Chofetz Chaim, in his commentary on Parshas Pinchas points out a startling fact. The Tribe of Dan was one of the largest of the tribes at that point in history, far larger than many other tribes, though Dan only began with one deaf son, while his brothers had many healthy children… which just goes to show you that outcomes (and progeny) is beyond man’s calculations.
Way back when, before World War II became a reality, my friend’s great-uncle was blessed with much money and beautiful, talented daughters. Nachas about his children was his lot when he contemplated his children. His was the storybook life, replete with perfection at every turn. That is why he thought it shouldn’t have happened to him, but G-d blessed him with an imperfect daughter born crippled and deformed. This great uncle never quite got over the shock of having a sickly daughter among his healthy Chevra. To be sure, he did his duty by this daughter, ensuring she lacked nothing as she grew. Yet, she was the thorn in his life, the imperfection that marred his otherwise perfect life. She was his colossal embarrassment.
Time went on, and one by one, the great-uncle’s daughters were sought out as marriage partners. Great-uncle led child after child down to the Chuppah. One day, his sickly daughter came to him. “Totty,” she said, “when are you going to begin to look for a groom for me? When will you marry me off, too?”
“Marry you off?!! Forget about it. It is bad enough to have one sick person in the family. That’s it I need – for you to get married and bring sickly grandchildren into the world for me to take care of. Never. Stop your dreaming.”
While the girl had been created deformed and sickly in body, her soul and spirit was healthier than most others. Having heard her father’s sentiments clearly, she knew her salvation would not be coming from him. The girl decided it was up to her to ensure she built a Jewish family, so she set off on her mission, spreading word that she was willing to settle for any guy willing to settle for her. Came the day, when the Shadchan came up with a solution for this girl, and over her father’s most vocal of protestations, my cousin got married. “Don’t come to me for anything,” was his parting shot.
And parting shot it was, for the Nazis marched into Hungary shortly thereafter, decimating most of the family. Shipped off to the gas chambers were this man, along with his beautiful, talented daughters. Children, grandchildren, cousins, all wiped out.
When WWII came to a close, like little green shoots that appear after the devastation of a forest fire, survivors began surfacing, a few from each family. From my friend’s great-uncle’s family, the only survivors were the offspring of his disabled daughter. It was her vision, her drive to build a family, which enabled the great-uncle to have a remnant left after the war. His soul must praise the day his daughter went against his wishes to marry. After all, that is why he has countless offspring residing in Israel, a new generation of Jews, links in his chain.
Dan had only one son who was disabled. He saw his brother Binyamin with over a dozen kids. He could have despaired. He could have felt less than. He poured all his efforts into that one son…and had a larger tribe of descendants.
It is our job to do in life, not to figure out the odds of our succeeding.