Jewish History Blog

Simon – 21st of Tevet

Burial place of Simon ben Yaakov. Simon was a “man of war,” but his father’s wisdom turned into a selfless servant of his people.

Simon, Jacob’s the second son, was born and died on the 21st day of the Hebrew month, Tevet. He is seen as the “man of war.” There is no question that the Jewish people need a strong army. If not for Simon, and his brother Levi, the brothers probably would not have rescued their sister, Dinah, from Shechem (Genesis 34). On the other hand, Jacob criticizes them very strongly for their act on his deathbed (Genesis 49:5-7).

Indeed, Jacob acted to mitigate their power. If they lived as one concentrated unit, they would be impossible to contend with. They would be a militaristic, Sparta-like state. Jacob, therefore, scattered them throughout the Jewish people (ibid. v. 7).

Simon was absorbed by the tribe of Judah, which was situated in the south near Hebron. They also had some property in the north near the Sea of Galilee. Their territory was split up and they has difficultly conquering the enemies in their land. Simon was also the smallest of the tribes (Numbers 26). Instead of the most feared warrior in Israel, he becomes the weakest.

Furthermore, Jacob made Simon teachers. Teaching was never the most well-paying profession in the history of the world. The rabbis in the Talmud quote Ezra saying that the scribes, i.e. teachers, would always barely eke out a living. In biblical times the teachers traveled to the students (unlike today when students come to the school). It was spiritually rewarding work, but humbling and not monetarily rewarding. As such, it was a profession that helped curb the tribe’s aggressive tendencies.

If Simon stood for education, then Levi was the public servant. He was not given land of his own, but lived off public funds. If you are dependent upon public good will you tend to develop a pleasant personality. You learn to take a lot of criticism without responding in kind. That was Levi.

Depending upon the support of the public is not pleasant. Everyone wishes he was independently wealthy, including rabbis. It would give the position a different stature. Nevertheless, that is not the reality. The community is dependent upon its rabbis and the rabbis are dependent upon the generosity of the community.

Levi was the public servant, dependent upon the good will of people; dependent upon the donations of others.

Jacob’s strategy worked. He broke up these two extremely strong-minded, strong-willed sons. Simon became the teachers and Levi became the priests. Aaron, the High Priest, descended from Levi. He embodies the idea of peace, tranquility, compromise and serving God. This represented a complete turnaround from Levi’s original personality.

Besides Aaron, Levi of course also produced Moses, as well as Miriam. Levi is the civil servant of the Jewish people, if we can use that term. They are singularly devoted to the welfare of the people. They were set aside, different and apart. That is why they did not take part in the episode of the Golden Calf, or any form of idol worship — whether in Egypt of the Desert — according to Jewish Tradition.

In short, Jacob’s blessing transformed both Simon and Levi’s strong personalities into strong, selfless servants of the people.

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Posted in:
Bible/ Tanach, Biographies
Rabbi Berel Wein
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  • December 27, 2010

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