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Naftoli and His Tribe

by Nissan Mindel

Talks and Tales


Library » History » Patriarchs, 12 Tribes | Subscribe | What is RSS?


Naftoli was the fifth son of our father Yaakov. He was the younger of the two sons of Bilhah, Rachel's maid, whom Rachel had offered to be Yaakov's wife, hoping that she (Rachel, who had as yet no children) would have a child through her. His older brother was Dan.

When Yaakov blessed the tribes, he said about Naftoli: "Naftoli is a swift deer. He expresses beautiful sayings." (Gen. 49:21)

Our Sages of blessed memory relate that Naftoli was truly swift as a deer. When the brothers returned from Egypt with the happy tidings that Yosef was alive, Naftoli was the first to reach Yaakov to bring the good news.

Many years later, when Yaakov's body was brought from Egypt to be buried in the Cave of Machpelah. Esau did not want to allow it, claiming that the last free burial spot was his. Naftoli was the speedy messenger who dashed off to Egypt and brought the Bill of Sale which clearly stated that Esau had sold this burial spot to Yaakov.

The blessing of our Father Yaakov to Naftoli was also fulfilled when the Land of Israel was divided among the twelve tribes. At that time, the tribe of Naftoli received a very fertile part of the Land of Israel - the Valley of Genosor (The Sea of Galilee), where fruits ripened first in the whole land. It was from this part of the land that the First Fruits (Bikurim) were brought to the Beth Hamikdosh in Jerusalem as a thanksgiving offering to Hashem.

Naftoli, being the last tribe mentioned in the entire "Order of the Flags" must have been the rear guard who gathered up also the stragglers of his own camp
At the time when Naftoli came to Egypt, together with Yaakov's entire family of 70 souls, Naftoli had four sons. These branched out into four family clans. Upon leaving Egypt with the entire Jewish people, 210 years later, Naftoli's tribe counted 53,400 males of military age (20 years and older), apart from women and children.

The Nasi (Prince or Head) of the tribe of Naftoli was Achira, son of Enan. The tribe ranked sixth among the tribes, according to the number of tribesmen. Forty years later, when the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel, under the leadership of Yehoshua, son of Nun, the tribe of Naftoli counted 45,400 -8,000 fewer, and was the eighth highest among the tribes at the latest count.

In the "Order of the Flags" in which the Jewish people marched through the Desert of Sinai (eastward) to the Promised Land, the twelve tribes were divided into four divisions ("camps"), consisting of three tribes each, and headed by a leading tribe assigned to be the standard-bearer. The whole Jewish people encamped, as well as marched, in the form of a quadrangle (square), with the Ohel Mo'ed (Tabernacle) in the center, surrounded on all sides by the tribal camps. In between the Ohel Mo'ed and the tribal camps was the Camp of Shechinah, where the Kohanim and Leviim had their tents. Thus, on the east of the quadrangle was the camp of the tribe of Yehudah, flanked by Issachar and Zevulun; in the south were Reuven with Shimon and Gad; Efraim with Menasheh and Binyamin, were on the west; and Dan, with Asher and Naftoli, were on the north. (Num. ch. 2).

The Dan camp was the one that gathered together the stragglers of all the other camps. Naftoli, being the last tribe mentioned in the entire "Order of the Flags" must have been the rear guard who gathered up also the stragglers of his own (Dan's) camp, if there were any.

After the Mishkan (Sanctuary) was set up, and the Heads of the tribes (Nesi'im) brought their offerings for the Dedication of the Altar (Chanukat Hamizbe'ach), Achira was the Head of the tribe of Naftoli who was the last of the twelve Nesi'im to bring his offerings.


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Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Plural form of Kohain. Priests of G-d. This title belongs to the male descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses. The primary function of the Kohain was to serve in the Holy Temple. Today the Kohain is still revered and it is his function to recite the Priestly Blessings on certain occasions.
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The day beforehand. For example, "Erev Pesach" means the day before Passover.
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Rogue son of Patriarch Isaac and Matriarch Rebecca. Elder twin of Patriarch Jacob.
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King of Israel who succeeded Saul, becoming king of Israel in 876 BCE. Originally a shepherd, he became popular after he killed the Philistine strongman, Goliath. He is the progenitor of the Davidic royal dynasty -- which will return to the throne with the arrival of King Messiah.
1. A Moabite woman who accompanied Naomi, the Jewish mother of her deceased husband, back to Israel. She converted, married, and was the ancestor of King David. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, which chronicles the events of Naomi's life.
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The Five Books of Moses.
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