June 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

In Bamidbar (Chapter 26) we are given a breakdown of the population of each tribe that was counted in the census after the plague. The population of the tribe of Dan was 64,400 while the population of the tribe of Benjamin (Binyamin) was noted to be 45,600. This means that the tribe of Dan was more than a third larger than the tribe of Benjamin. The population of the tribe of Dan was, in fact, second only to the tribe of Yehudah, which was the largest.

R’ Chatzkel Levenstein made an interesting note about this occurrence. If we look back to Parshas Vayigash, we read that Binyamin had 10 children. Dan had only one child. Dan’s only son, Chushim, was actually disabled. He was hearing impaired to the extent that he was totally deaf. If we were to guess back then who would more likely succeed and have big families we probably would have guessed it would be Binyamin. The “odds” at that time were 10 to one. Yet, the opposite took place. The tribe of Dan flourished and outnumbered the tribe of Binyomin by tens of thousands of individuals when this latest census was taken.

R’ Yissocher Frand makes an interesting observation regarding this point. “All the predictions concerning how many children someone will have or how healthy they will be or how wealthy they will be must be taken with a strong grain of salt. These matters are not up to us. They are in the hands of God. If Hashem wants something to happen, He will make it happen; if He doesn’t want it to happen, it will not happen.”

So when we review the verses in the Torah that seem to give us dry statistics about the population of each tribe, we have to “read between the lines.” The Torah is also telling us to look at what happened to the tribe of Dan. Look at how great and mighty this family turned out. And it all started with a single disabled child.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, R’ Menachem Schneerson, corresponded with a program director for the developmentally disabled in 1979. This was at a time when society was moving away from big institutions for the mentally retarded and was, instead, moving toward a system of caring for their needs in group homes. In the early to mid 1900s, if a family had a child who was disabled they were often encouraged to give up on them, make them wards of the state and put them away in faraway institutions, never to be seen again. Having worked years ago at Letchworth Village, I saw many of these children, who may have come from religious Jewish homes, abandoned and never mentioned again by their families. Some were even buried in unmarked graves at the end of their lives.

The Rebbe emphasized that these children were “special people,” not just as a euphemism but because he actually felt that this was true. He encouraged that they each receive an individual therapy approach so that they could achieve the utmost in their personal development. He opined that they receive a Torah education and perform mitzvot, Jewish customs and traditions so that they would feel that they belonged and were valuable members of the Jewish society that they came from. He reminded the program director of the basic Torah tradition to “Love your neighbor as yourself” and that this applied to people who were developmentally disabled as well.

May we learn to cherish and value all of our children, even the ones who are disabled. These were the children the Rebbe called “special people.” As the tribe of Dan evolved from this one child with a hearing impairment, so too, great things are possible when our children with disabilities receive the special services that help promote their development. You never know how life will turn out.


Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist in private practice. He is president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected].

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