LEVI לוי – SHIMON שמעון – REUBEN ראובן
ZEBULUN זבולן – ISSACHAR יששכר – JUDAH יהודה
GAD גד – NAFTALI נפתלי – DAN דן
BENJAMIN בנימין – JOSEPH יוסף – ASHER אשר
The names of Twelve Tribes, which appear in various configurations throughout the Torah, have many important symbolic ramifications according to the Rabbis. This is particularly evident in their incision on the gemstones of the Khoshen חושן or Breastplate of the High Priest, where the order and the spelling of the tribal names are according to their first appearance in the Torah at the birth of each of the brothers. The total number of the Hebrew letters of all these tribes adds up to fifty, which is a seminal number, associated with the counting of the Omer and the 50 gates of Understanding. The major purpose of the incised names was to serve as a communicating instrument between G-d and the Jewish people, the oracular Urim and Toomim. Important questions of great consequence to the nation, such as whether to wage war, would be submitted by the High Priest and answers would be received as specific lit-up letters on the Khoshen.
Since the Torah is eternal and applies to all times and states of being, it is my suggestion that one’s meditation on the letters of the Twelve Tribes should have an efficacy, particularly when one confronts difficult crossroads in one’s life. And if one does this in a state of prayer in one’s own internal Temple – enlightened answers are possible.
The following are some possible correspondences which I have found to the Twelve Tribes and the gemstones (as well as the tribal banners in the desert), based primarily on the classical commentators, Rashi and R. Yakov Kuli (Maam Loh-az), but doesn’t even pretend to be exhaustive.
Another input from mystic Sefer Yetzira is the alignment of the Tribes in the desert formation with the Jewish months of the year and the constellations and human qualities (Levi and Joseph being exchanged for Menasseh and Ephraim). The viewer is invited to continue further.
REUBEN ראובן was incised on the אודם) אדם pronounced Oh-dem), a red stone which most commentators agree is a ruby, and the basis for the painting’s colors. The name oh-dem is related to the word, Adam, or man, and suggests also the dudaim, the human-like mandrakes, which Reuben gave to his mother Leah. The ruby and the mandrakes have been credited with having the power to aid fertility. This implies in the spiritual dimension the ability to make `chidushim’ – new creative discoveries – and is also connected with the first three letters of Reuben’s name ראו, which means seeing, even otherworldly vision.
Tammuz – Cancer – Sight
(Genesis 30:14) Reuben went…and found mandrakes in the field וילך ראובן…וימצא דודאים בשדה
SHIMON שמעון was incised on the פטדה Pitdah, which some commentators translate as an emerald, hence the scintillating green colors in the painting. Other sources of inspiration include:
1) the desert banner of Shimon, which showed the city of Sechem ensconced between the mountains and which was the central city of the tribe in Israel.
2) the suggestion of an ear shape or sound wave ripples which hints at the meaning of the Hebrew word Shimon, “diminutive” hearing, the inner hearing of the still voice of the soul.
Av – Leo – Hearing
(Genesis 29:33) G-d has heard that I was unloved כי שמע ה’ כי שנואה אנכי
LEVI לוי was incised on the ברקת Bareket, which some commentators translate as a scintillating crystal, suggesting lightening. Symbolically, this applies to the power to enlighten and be enlightened with Torah studies, which was a special attribute of the tribe. The desert banner of Levi contained three colors – red, white and black – and included a section of the specially woven garments of the priests and the Levites.
(Menasseh) Chesvan – Scorpio – Smell
(Deut 33:8) Your Urim and Tumim belong to your pious one תמיך ואוריך לאיש חסידך
JUDAH יהודה was incised on the נפך Nofech, which some commentators believe was a bluish- green carbuncle. The gem is said to have an efficacy in achieving victory over one’s enemies, internal and external, which is a primary attribute of Kingdom, as well as the Baal Tsuvah, the Repenter, both of which are associated with Judah. The desert banner of Judah contained a picture of a crouching lion and a gestalt of its profile may be discerned in the painting.
Nissan – Aries – Speech
Genesis 49:9) Judah is a young lion גור אריה יהודה
ISSACHAR יששכר was incised on the ספיר Sapir, which commentators believe may be a sapphire of a deep blue tint, the color of the pure sky, since this tribe was known for the excellence of its Torah and astronomical studies. In the midst of this gem, one was able to see a form of a dark cloud, suggesting the receiving of the Torah at Sinai. The desert banner of Issachar contained a drawing of a donkey, which hints at the tribe’s ability to carry the heavy load of Torah.
Iyar – Taurus – Thought
(Genesis 49:14) Issachar is a strong-boned donkey יששכר חמר גרם
ZEBULUN זבולן was incised on the יהלם Yahalom, which commentators believe was not a diamond, as its modern Hebrew translation, but rather a pearl, which is, of course, only found in the depths of the sea and thus appropriate for this sea-faring tribe. These ideas are hinted by the pearly and ocean wave texture of the painting.
Sivan – Gemini – Action
(Genesis 49:13) Zebulun shall settle the coast זבולן לחוף ימים ישכן
DAN דן was incised on the לשם Leshem, which some commentators believe was an orange topaz. It is said that the gem shows “inverted faces” to hint at the fact that from this tribe came many judges, who had to show impartiality in judgment to the rich and the poor. To clearly see this in the painting one can position the painting or oneself upside down. The banner of Dan also showed a snake and a suggestion of snake scales may also be detected.
Tevet – Capricorn – Anger
(Genesis 49:16) Dan shall judge his people דן ידין עמו
(Genesis 49:17) Let Dan be a snake יהי דן נחש
NAFTALI נפתלי was incised on the שבו Shevoh, which may be a turquoise stone. The banner of Naftali showed an antlered deer, according to Jacob’s blessing, suggesting dispatch and avidity in performing the commandments.
Adar – Pisces – Laughter
(Genesis 49:21) Naftali is a deer running free נפתלי אילה שלוחה
GAD גד was incised on the אחלמה Achlama, which some commentators define as a purple tinted amethyst in the form of a calf’s eye which was believed to prevent cowardliness in battle, an important prerequisite for the tribe which guarded the frontier. The banner of Gad showed a formation of soldiers and army camp, which may be discerned in the painting.
Elul – Virgo – Action
(Genesis 49:19) Gad is an army camp גד גדוד יגודנו
ASHER אשר was incised on the תרשיש Tarshish, which may have been amber the color of olive oil, appropriate for a tribe which was known for its olive oil production. The banner of Asher actually showed an olive tree, which is the central composition in the painting.
Shevat – Aquarius – Taste
(Deut 33:24) He shall dip his foot in olive oil וטבל בשמן רגלו
JOSEPH יוסף was incised on the שהם Shoham, which was a very black gem, probably an onyx. The banner of Joseph showed the city of Egypt, represented here by a myriad of small faces, emerging from the shadows.
(Ephraim) Tishrei – Libra – Coition
(Deut 33:22) Joseph is a noble son בן פרת יוסף
BENJAMIN בנימין was incised on the ישפה Yashpeh, or jasper, which was multicolored. The banner of Benjamin showed a wolf, preying on its spoil, emanating ferocity. In the painting a frontal view of a wolf is somewhat hidden behind the reeds, but may be discerned, if you know where to look.
Kislev -Sagittarius – Sleep
(Genesis 49:27) Benjamin is a fierce wolf בנימין זאב יטרף
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