Rabbi Nathan Sternhartz of Breslov (1780 1844), also known as “Reb Noson”, was the chief disciple and scribe of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov the founder of the Breslov branch of Hasidic Judaism. Rabbi Nachman (1772-1810) of Breslov is also known as Reb Nachman of Bratslav.
The following article is based on an excerpt from the writings of Rabbi Nathan (“Likutei Halacot”, Orach Chaim, Tefilah 5:3). We have summarized, elaborated upon, and paraphrased the original somewhat while endeavoring to give over the original message.
The Twelve Tribes are paralleled by Twelve Blessings that comprise the middle section of the weekday (not Shabat or Festival) prayer said three times daily by Religious Jews.
Twelve Blessings for Twelve Tribes
The Twelve Middle Blessings parallel the Twelve Tribes descendants of the Sons of Jacob. The Children of Jacob represent the aspect of a Complete Staff [Unified Stick, cf. Ezekiel 37] which is the main aim of prayer, i.e. to unite the individual with the rest of Israel before the Almighty.
The Twelve Blessings parallel the Twelve Sons of Jacob:
The First Blessing of the Twelve Middle Blessings starts with, “You Give to Man Knowledge”. This pertains to Reuben.
The birth of Reuben is described in the Torah:
[Genesis 29:31] AND WHEN THE LORD SAW THAT LEAH WAS HATED, HE OPENED HER WOMB: BUT RACHEL WAS BARREN.
[Genesis 29:32] AND LEAH CONCEIVED, AND BARE A SON, AND SHE CALLED HIS NAME REUBEN: FOR SHE SAID, SURELY THE LORD HATH LOOKED UPON MY AFFLICTION; NOW THEREFORE MY HUSBAND WILL LOVE ME.
The Blessing “You Give to Man Knowledge” represents Reuben who was named for the quality of Perception (Genesis 29) and whose named connotes “See a Son” [in Hebrew, “Reu-ben”, Beracoth 7] . Sight (perception) is an aspect of discernment and knowledge as it says, “MY HEART HAD GREAT EXPERIENCE OF WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE [Eccelssiastes -The Preacher 1:16].
In Hebrew the expression translated as “HAD GREAT EXPERIENCE OF” is “Rah” which literally translated means “saw”, i.e. “my heart saw much knowledge and wisdom”. cf. “And the eyes of both of them were opened” (Genesis 3) which is connected with knowledge and knowing as Rashi explains.
The Blessing of Repentance, “Return Us” parallels Simeon whose name is reflected in the expression of his mother when he was born, “God heard that I was hated” [Genesis 29:33] AND SHE CONCEIVED AGAIN, AND BARE A SON; AND SAID, BECAUSE THE LORD HATH HEARD I WAS HATED, HE HATH THEREFORE GIVEN ME THIS SON ALSO: AND SHE CALLED HIS NAME SIMEON.
This applies to a Penitent who at first is trapped in transgression and is hateful in the eyes of God and himself but then God helps him. The penitent arouses himself to repentance. God has mercy on his disgrace as it says “BECAUSE THE LORD HATH HEARD I WAS HATED”.
MY WOUNDS STINK AND ARE CORRUPT BECAUSE OF MY FOOLISHNESS [Psalms 38:5]. The sinner is corrupt and disgraceful in his own eyes.
THE POOR IS HATED EVEN OF HIS OWN NEIGHBOUR [Proverbs 14:20] This applies to someone who is poor in Torah and good deeds. We pray and request that the Almighty will have mercy, hear us, and enable us to repent and return for we are hateful because our deeds are bad. We want the Almighty to hear us and help us return with true contrition to HIM.
[In the Blessing of Moses to the Tribes (Deuteronomy ch.33) Simeon is omitted. Judah however in some cases encompassed the Tribes of Simeon (Joshua ch. 2). The Sages said that the presence of Simeon is hinted at in the Blessing to Judah which begins with “HEAR, LORD, THE VOICE OF JUDAH”. The word “HEAR” in Hebrew is “Shema” which sounds similar to the Hebrew pronunciation of Simeon (“Shima-on”).]
[Deuteronomy 33:7] AND THIS IS THE BLESSING OF JUDAH: AND HE SAID, HEAR [Hebrew: “Shema”], LORD, THE VOICE OF JUDAH, AND BRING HIM UNTO HIS PEOPLE: LET HIS HANDS BE SUFFICIENT FOR HIM; AND BE THOU AN HELP TO HIM FROM HIS ENEMIES.
This aspect of being heard and repentance is recalled in the phrase “HEAR, LORD, THE VOICE OF JUDAH, AND BRING HIM UNTO HIS PEOPLE” [Deuteronomy 33:7]. This concerns the Repentance of Judah. Judah confessed his transgression with Tamar (Genesis 38:26), repented, and through his example caused Reuben to repent his transgression with Bilah (Genesis 35:22, Sotah 7). Reuben was the first to repent and set the Precedent (Midrash Breishit Rabah 84). From this we learn that “HEAR, LORD, THE VOICE OF JUDAH” is referring to Repentance. The voice of Israel will be heard. All of Israel [in some cases] may be subsumed under Judah who will all repent and return. In the [Hebrew] letters of the words “HEAR, LORD” is contained a blessing for Simeon as explained in the Commentary of Rashi. We may deduce that the “HEAR, LORD” refers to Simeon who represents the aspect of Repentance. This explains why the Blessing requesting we be enabled to repent parallels Simeon.
The Blessing, “Forgive Us”, parallels Levi from whom emerged the Priests (Cohens) and Levites who were continuously occupied with the Temple Service whose aim is to atone for and induce forgiveness on the sins of Israel.
The Blessing, “Look Now Upon Our Oppression”, concludes with the expression “Redeemer of Israel”. This parallels Judah from whom will come the Messiah, the Redeemer of Israel. He will be a Righteous Redeemer.
The Blessing, “Heal Us”, parallels Issachar. The Tribe of Issachar was much occupied with learning the Torah (Talmud, Yoma 26). The Torah is a healing medicine for every person.
The Blessing, “Bless This Year”, relates to Zebulon who was a merchant and with the profits of his trading helped support Issachar.
The Blessing, “Blow With a Great Shofar”, is for the ingathering of the Exiles especially for the gathering of they who were cast out. This parallels the tribe of Dan who was the last of the Tribes in the line of marching and would gather up those of the other tribes who had fallen behind.
Amalek- Archenemy of Israel
Amalek [the arch-enemy of Israel] always pursues after the camp of Dan. Amalek bears the aspect of sexual immorality. This is called “Pegem Habrit” (impairment of the covenant) because it weakens the bond or covenant between Israel and the Almighty.
We pray that God will have mercy upon us and gather together our dispersed in the physical and spiritual sense. In one sense the Dispersion was due to the impairment of the covenant or sexual immorality and its rectification is the responsibility of the Camp of Dan.
The Blessing, “Return Our Judges”, parallels Naphtali:
NAPHTALI IS A HIND LET LOOSE: HE GIVETH GOODLY WORDS [Genesis 49:21].
GOODLY WORDS or “words of pleasantry” meaning pleasant sayings to clarify the judgment and to establish counsel. The word translated as pleasant in Hebrew is “Shepher”. This root is related to the Latin and English word “super”. In Hebrew it is also used in verbal form and pronounced as “shipar” meaning to improve. “GOODLY WORDS” (Hebrew: “Imri Shepher”) connote words that improve the situation and lessen contention. This quality is connected to Royalty since the main point of Kingship is the judgment that emanates from it as it says “The king by judgment will establish the earth” (Proverbs 29).
The Blessing, “On the Righteous”, parallels Joseph the Righteous One.
The Blessing, “On Jerusalem”, parallels Benjamin in whose section was located most of Jerusalem.
The Blessing, “For the Flourishing of David”, parallels Gad since Elijah comes from Gad. Elijah will hasten the Redemption.
[Malachi 4:5] BEHOLD, I WILL SEND YOU ELIJAH THE PROPHET BEFORE THE COMING OF THE GREAT AND DREADFUL DAY OF THE LORD:
[Malachi 4:6] AND HE SHALL TURN THE HEART OF THE FATHERS TO THE CHILDREN, AND THE HEART OF THE CHILDREN TO THEIR FATHERS, LEST I COME AND SMITE THE EARTH WITH A CURSE.
The Blessing, “Hear Our Prayer”, parallels Asher (Genesis 30)
[Genesis 30:13] AND LEAH SAID, HAPPY AM I, FOR THE DAUGHTERS WILL CALL ME BLESSED: AND SHE CALLED HIS NAME ASHER.
The name Asher in Hebrew can suggest affirmation which is what we receive when our prayers are answered. “Asher” also connotes blessing and happiness.
[Deuteronomy 33:24] AND OF ASHER HE SAID, LET ASHER BE BLESSED WITH CHILDREN; LET HIM BE ACCEPTABLE TO HIS BRETHREN, AND LET HIM DIP HIS FOOT IN OIL.
In Psalm 144 the Hebrew words “asher” meaning “which” and “ashrei” meaning “happy” or “blessed” are repeated throughout. These Hebrew expressions resemble the name of “Asher” and it is suggested that this Psalm pertains to that Tribe.