The incident in Chazal about the death of Eisav as he tries to obstruct the burial of Yakov in the Mearas HaMachpela is well known. However, I would like to try to get some more insight into the meaning of what takes place at that time.
In the Gemarra in Sotah and in the Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer the incident is recounted with slight variations. After Yakov dies, Yosef and the brothers bring his coffin to be buried in the Mearas HaMachpela. When they arrive, Eisav is awaiting them and claims as his own the right to be buried there. Yosef responds by stating that there is a contract in Egypt which shows that Yakov purchased the Mearas HaMachpela, and he sends Naftali to retrieve it. As they are waiting, Chushim the son of Dan, who is deaf (or hard of hearing), wants to know why they are not burying his grandfather. He is told that Eisav is not allowing it and they are awaiting the arrival of the contract from Egypt. When he hears this, he takes- here the Midrashim diverge- either a sword and removes Eisav’s head; or a stick which he stuns Eisav with, and then Yehudah removes Eisav’s head. Eisav’s head falls into the Mearas HaMachpela while his body is returned to be buried in Edom, and the burial of Yakov is completed.
The two basic questions are:
Why is this battle with Eisav fought with this particular person, Chushim the son of Dan?
Why does Chushim need to be deaf?
In order to understand this we need to examine the entire context of the burial of Yakov. The major source to understand this is the Ramban at the beginning of Parshas Va’Yechi. He explains that our descent into the exile in the hands of Rome is foretold in the descent of Yakov to Egypt; and the redemption will be parallel to Yakov leaving Egypt. What is most relevant for our purpose here, is that the funeral procession of Yakov is the model for the way we will return from the fourth exile under Rome. Just as Yakov is accompanied by the nobles of Egypt, so too the Jewish people will be accompanied by all the kings of the nations as a Mincha to HaShem. Just as Yakov seems to be an embalmed desiccated corpse, so too we will be seemingly a dead corpse with our bones dried out. But just as we know that Yakov Avinu does not die, so too the seeming dead body of the Jewish people and the dry bones will come back to life and this will be the final redemption. If so, we can add to the idea of the Ramban that all the particulars of that burial are part of the final redemption, and the battle and death of Eisav at the hands of Chushim is parallel to the final annihilation of Amalek in the time of the redemption.
But why is this done through Chushim the son of Dan? I would like to present five aspects of this, and try to expand on some of them.
In the earlier part of the Parsha we learn the Bracha of Dan. Reading Rashi there, the Bracha is about a potential Moshiach. Rashi emphasizes the aspect of Shimshon, but we see that Yakov Avinu foresaw a role for the descendants of Dan in the process of Moshiach. This is mentioned in the Zohar in Balak that one of the warriors along with Moshiach ben Yosef.
Dan is the first son of Bilha. She is the Pilegesh of Rachel. In the writings of the ARIZ”L she is referred to as the אחוריים of Rachel, a subsidiary aspect of Rachel. And that is why Yakov moves his bed into her tent when Rachel dies. So her children are part of the family of Rachel. This is clear in the Pesukim since Rachel says that Bilha’s children will be mine. Since it is brought down that the children of Eisav will fall at the hands of the descendants of Rachel, Dan is included in that ability, of which this is the ma’aseh Avos. Theis another aspect that connects Dan as a part of Moshiach ben Yosef whose responsibility is to overcome Eisav, as we said previously.
The name חשים is written without the letter ‘Vav’ and it is the same letters as משיח. Furthermore, the name is from the word אחישנה which is the word for the end of the exile that HaShem will hastily bring the redemption when the Jews are worthy. This is part of the aspect that the redemption comes specifically from the lowest levels of the Jewish people, and Dan is considered the lowest of the tribes.
The tribe of Dan has an important part in the battle with Eisav. The twelve months correspond to the twelve tribes and Teves is the month associated with Dan. Based on the Zohar, the month of Teves is the harshest of the three months associated with Eisav. Therefore it is fitting that power of Kedusha of the month is Dan to overcome Eisav, when his son kills Eisav. In addition Eisav is considered as coming from the north, and that is where Dan’s encampment was in the desert. In addition, when Amalek first attacks the Jewish people after leaving Egypt, the Pasuk says that they attacked those who were outside the clouds. These people are from Dan. This might be seen as a revenge for the killing of their ancestor.
Dan is the Me’asef, the gatherer, of all the tribes as they travel through the desert. In many sources this is described as the ability to be outside the clouds of glory, and bring back in all the sparks of Kedusha which are wandering throughout the world (as opposed to the esikta rought above). Even in Eisav, there is a spark of Kedusha, which is the ציד בפיו , which Yitzchok sees as good. The head of Eisav therefore needs to be buried along with his father. Dan is the one who can make this separation, find the holiness and detach it from the impure body of Eisav.
To further clarify some of these ideas:
In paragraph 3) we see that Chushim is one of the ways that the Moshiach will come, the method of אחישנה, that HaShem will bring him earlier than expected. In the Gemarra where this is discussed, we are taught that there is a preordained time- בעתה- when Moshiach will come but if we merit it he can come earlier. Examining what takes place at Yakov’s funeral, we see that when Eisav tries to delay his burial, which is parallel to the redemption, Yosef reacts in a measured way. He sends Naftali to retrieve the contract, and everyone awaits his return. This is a method of redemption in a ‘natural’ way. In the RAMA”D Valli he says that Naftali is the natural messenger of the kings. Not only is he swift, but his Bracha also includes the ability to speak well and be a spokesman for the Jewish people. But, Chushim is cut from a different cloth. Since he is deaf, he is unaware of what is transpiring.
There is a concept in Mussar that a person can become accustomed to anything, and be unaware of the evil in it. Everyone else at the funeral were engaged in the negotiations with Eisav. They had become used to the idea that Eisav had a claim and they needed to refute it. Chushim since he was deaf never heard or assimilated Eisav’s claim. Therefore when he finally is made aware of what s transpiring his reaction is outrage and immediate action. That is an act of אחישנה which in this circumstance brings the Geulah. The ability to ignore outside influences and be outraged at evil is what Chushim does to bring the redemption.
This is specifically needed to counteract עמלק. He descends from Timna, who R Tzadok explains comes from a momentum away from Kedusha. A measured approach does not work against such an enemy. When the enemy is enraged and charging the counter needs to use the same technique against him. This is the outrage of Chushim and why he needs to be deaf, to hear this in the proper way, and react thusly.
There is another aspect to the confrontation between Eisav and Dan. The Maharsha describes this in terms of Eisav who come with the power of the evil snake of Gan Eden. Dan is compared to a snake in the Bracha of Yakov. The RAMA”D Vali writes at great length in explaining the bracha of Dan about his power to transform the snake of evil to the snake of Kedusha. This is also seen in the Gematraya that משיח is equal to נחש. Therefore the one who has the power of the snake overcomes Eisav. This seems clear in the Pasuk, since the tense is in the future, “May Dan be a snake”. Meaning, the only time to be a snake is in the future when it is rectified, rather than now.
In another aspect of the same idea, the Shela”h HaKodesh says that Dan represents the idea of Teshuva. In the Brachos of Yakov he is represented as a snake, but in the end of the Torah when Moshe gives Brachos, he is parallel to Yehudah, and is a lion. This the Shela”h explains is a change of his name to a more positive aspect through the power of Teshuva.
There is also the aspect of the cooperation with Yehudah. As Tosfos writes, according to the Gemarra, Chushim smites Eisav and Yehudah then removes his head. This cooperation between Dan and Yehudah is a recurring theme. In the Brachos of Yakov and Moshe, they are both referred to as a lion. The construction of both the Mishkan and the first Bais HaMikdosh are a collaboration between Yehudah and Dan, Betzalel and Ahliav; and Shlomo and Chira. Shimshon’s mother comes from Yehudah, and it is brought that Moshiach’s mother comes from Dan. When Yosef threatens to enslave Binyomn, Yehudah gets ready to attack the Yosef and he roars in battle. Chushim back in Canaan hears him and comes to join him. All of these sources emphasize Dan’s crucial role on the process of Moshiach, which reinforce his role here in attacking Eisav.
The Chasam Sofer brings another hint to this. He brings a Midrash that says that in the Torah of Rabbi Meir the words of the Pasuk abut Chushim are different. Instead of saying בני דן חושים, the word בני is singular and written בן. This does not mean that he had a different text of the Torah, but that he sees another way to understand the Pasuk. The reference that the Chasam Sofer says is that if you take the first three letters of this Pasuk is an acronym for בינה דעת חכמה otherwise known as חב”ד the three highest ספירות. The way we have the Pasuk the last three letters in it are ינ”מ which are three of the four lowest levels- נצח יסוד מלכות. Hwever, R Meir changes the יסוד to a נ which he says represents the נחש the snake. Why is this?
Explains the Chasam Sofer that the snake cannot be hinted at till he is rectified by Dan. The hint in the Pasuk as it is written is a י which is יסוד the attribute of Yosef. But since R’ Meir himself descends from Rome, he is the head of Eisav who was rectified by Chushim and is the snake of Kedusha. This act of Chushim to remove the head and purify it, was different than Yosef’s approach. So R’ Meir who is the repaired Eisav removes the letter which hints to Yosef and instead inserts a reference to the snake which is the process that allowed him to join the Jewish people.
There is another aspect of the battle with Eisav. The Gemarra in Baba Basra points out that in the Pinchas when the children of the Shevatim are counted again; Chushim is called Shucham. The Gemara says that the real name is Shucham, and the name Chushim is a reference to a bundle of ‘Kanim’ – reeds. And just as a reeds grow in a bundle of many, so too Dan’s only child had many children. A deeper reading here sees a connection to Eisav.
The Pasuk in Tehilim says: “Rebuke the wild beast of the reeds, the multitude of the bulls”. Says Rashi that this wild beast of the reeds is Amalek. The Zohar brings this and says that this is connected to the foundation of Rome. The Gemarra tells us that night Shlomo married the daughter Pharaoh, Gavriel stuck a reed in the ocean and on that was built the great city of Rome. Therefore we see in two places that Rome, i.e. Eisav, is compared to a reed. This fits very well since Rashi tells us that one of the differences between Yakov and Eisav is that Eisav sees his importance in being many, as he says, “I have a lot”. Yakov on the other hand says, “I have all.” This is seen also by Eisav calling his family ‘Souls’, and Yakov calling them ‘Seventy Soul’ in the singular. The reed represents this characteristic of ‘many’.
Dan as Eisav’s antagonist is also blessed with the characteristic of a reed. But according to one Midrash, Dan is the seventieth member of the Jewish people who Yakov calls ‘Seventy Soul’. So he is the one who counteracts Eisav’s many with his multitude which is a unity.
May we be Zoche to be outraged by evil, and bring the defeat of Eisav, and the final Geulah.