By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman
This week’s Parsha Perspective is dedicated by Mr. Binyomin Philipson in memory of his mother, Mrs. Ellen (Elka bas Zisel) Philipson OBM.
Nobody wants to play the Indian, we all want to be the chief. The maids of honor are only in the picture to complement the bride. It's obvious; the headman gets all the rank and prestige and the bride gets all the presents. There is no shame in wanting to stride first down the red carpet of life but for better or worse some people do need to hang back in the processional.
The Jews were on their long trek to the Promised Land. Contrary to popular belief, this was no unruly mob resentfully scrabbling their way through the desert, but a highly motivated and organized nation, marching in military formation and in orderly succession. The princely tribe of Judah marched at the front with all due pomp and ceremony. Following them were the holy Levites, bearers of the Tabernacle, together with the high and mighty firstborn tribes. Bringing up the rear, last and possibly least, were the lowly grouping that belonged to the tribe of Dan.
Remarkably, the Dannites were the only regimental division to be honored with a description of purpose. "The camp of Dan, the collectors."1 Though it sounds like a rock band or an obsessive group of rare coin fanatics, the title "collectors" reflects their unique position in the social order.
With hundreds of thousands of Jews packing up and breaking camp simultaneously, it was inevitable that some items of value would be inadvertently left behind. The job of these back-end tribes was to collect those valuables and restore them to their owners. In fact this remarkable facility for cleaning up after themselves may well explain why so little overt evidence has ever been found of our ancestors' sojourn in the desert.
There are those who live their lives in the fast lane, striding off imperviously into the sunset, never looking back, not worrying about those who fall behind. Others live more circumspectly; not for them the bold gestures or the over-hasty decision, they live their lives for others and are there to pick up the pieces when you fall.
When it comes to deciding on one's future career path, it is tempting to imagine your name up in lights; headlining the show and earning all the applause. But from the Torah's perspective there is much to be admired about those who stand back, ready to shoulder the load for others. Somewhere out there, there are people who need your help. If you are too focused on your own journey you won't hear their cry nor feel their pain. We have to be ready and waiting for the opportunity to help others, even at the cost of our own self-gratification.
The leaders may get the kudos, but the real heroes of life are those quiet collectors at the rear.