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Am Israel and the Shevatim (tribes)


Rabbi David Sperling

Adar 12, 5780
Shalom Rav, what is the task/mission/purpose of Am Israel in this world? what does the word tribe[sheveth] mean? Is the task of Am Israel divided to or given to or being shared with 12 tribes? why are the divided into 12 tribes? thank you in advance. Shabbat shalom.
Shalom, Thank you for your question. It is of course a very big question, that will need much more study than this short forum can offer, as you have touched on some of the major questions of Judaism. Let's start with the mission of Am Israel in the world. While there are many ways to answer this question, the most basic one would be that the task of the Jewish people is to help create a world that is holy. A completely holy world is one that G-d dwells in a revealed fashion, and that mankind benefits from a constant unlimited and unbounded connection to G-d and G-dliness. Of course, in reaching this long term goal, there are many short term goals – but they all are part of the big picture of ultimate redemption of creation. In this task each and every person, Jew and Gentile alike, have a part to play. Every person, in every generation, in every situation, has the opportunity to bring more G-dliness into the world. We do this by acting according to the will of G-d, and fulfilling His commandments. Each person according to there particular task – Jews according to the 613 commandments, and non Jews according to their special law. Within the Jewish people, there is a further particular breakdown of tasks. Each tribe according to their own spiritual tendencies. Since the exile after the destruction of the Temple, we has almost lost our “tribal” identities (except for the tribe of Levi which includes to Cohen and Levi tribes, who even today have their own special laws of serving G-d). Today we serve as Jews – regardless of our tribal identity, which has been almost totally forgotten. Even though we believe (and pray for) the return of the Jewish people to their fullest spiritual level, which will include a return to the special service of each tribe – we also know that all G-d's ways are for the best. That is, the loss of our tribal connections has enabled the Jewish people to strengthen our unity as one people. This is a prerequisite for us before we can then move on to the particularism of our separate tribes. Especially after our long and bitter exile (of 2000 years or so) we first need to rebuild ourselves as one nation together – only after which we will be able to return to the special jobs of each tribe. I hope this is of some help to you, Blessings.
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