נַפְתָּלִי אַיָּלָה שְׁלֻחָה הַנֹּתֵן אִמְרֵי שָׁפֶר: ספר בראשית מט:כא“Naftali is a hind let loose; he gives goodly words” (Bereishit 49:21).
The word אַיָּל/ayal is also translated as hart, roebuck, gazelle and ibex (net-bible). What is it about the tribe of Naftali which resembles this nimble animal? Why is Naftali compared to specifically a female deer?
The Good Tiding Deer
The sons of Naftali were swift as the deer to run and give good tidings (Rabbeinu Bachaya). Therefore, Naftali was Ya’acov’s favorite messenger. Whenever it states in the Torah, “Ya’acov sent,” without specifying whom he sent, he always chose Naftali as his emissary (Agra D’Kala 139a). To be a good messenger Naftali must also have been trustworthy and humble to carry out his mission. Before the times of email, telephone, fax and telegram, kings used to send messages to one another through the deer. The deer who were born in the north would be raised in the palace of a king in the south. The king would tie his message between its horns. The deer would then run quickly to return to where it was born. We learn from the second part of the verse, “who brings goodly words” that the deer was especially selected to bring good tidings (Ramban). Perhaps this was also because Naftali had a way of accepting his fate by sweetening the judgments. The word ‘Naftali’ is connected to turbulence and twistedness. No matter how much suffering and turbulence the tzaddik endures, he will still “give goodly words” and praise to Hashem about them (Chatam Sofer). This concurs with Targum Unkelos, “He will give thanks for his lot with pleasing words and praise.” Naftali was sweet by means of the good tidings he would share with Israel. “The goodly words” may also refer to the words of Torah that should always be sweet, beloved and new to us just like the hind who is always beloved to its mate as the very first time, due to its narrow womb (Iruvin 54b, Kli Yakar, Bereishit 49:21). The “hind sent forth” is the embodiment of femininity and refers to the sefirah of malchut described as, “The voice of Hashem makes the hinds give birth” (Tehillim 29:9). King David called malchut “Ayelet ha-Shachar” (the morning glow, or the hind of the dawn) (Tehillim 22:1), for it is let lose (meshareret from the word shachar) like the dawn (shachar in Hebrew) to seek her beloved during exile (Magen David 7). Likewise, the congregation of Israel is compared to the deer, which is beloved to its mate, for Israel is sent forth from the upper source and “gives goodly words” – prayers to Hashem (The Rekanti on the Torah). These prayers are messages sent to Hashem by means of his faithful messengers, the angels (Rabbeinu Bachaya).
In praise of Swiftness
“…One must run as a deer… (Pirkei Avot 5:20). Being exited about life makes us run. Actually the Hebrew word for run, רָץ/ratz shares the same root as רָצוֹן/ratzon – will. I try to run, or at least walk swiftly, wherever I have to go anywhere, except if I have just eaten. This way I accomplish two goals in one, both getting needed exercise from always sitting at the computer as well as saving time. Tiferet Yisrael explains that we should not investigate the mitzvot of the Torah through the human intellect, but rather we must run like a deer from its pursuers in order to avoid falling into heresy. The main praise of Naftali is his wholeheartedness with which he would walk in Hashem’s way of Torah. It is known that Torah scholars have no rest neither in this nor in the coming world. A person should always run from strength to strength like Naftali, and never fall into becoming old and complacent (Rav Tzaddok of Lublin, P’ri Tzaddik, Rosh Chodesh Adar 11).
Swiftly Return with the Title-Deed of Machpelah
As Ya’akov’s sons were about to bury Ya’acov in the Cave of Machpela, Esau came to stop them as he claimed the cave of Mahpelah for himself. The burial assembly were compelled to delay the burial while they sent Naftali to run rapidly back to Egypt and bring the deed of the property to prove that only Ya’acov had burial rights to the cave (Sotah 16a), (Rashi, Bereishit 49:21). While they were waiting for the deed, Chushim, son of Dan asked, “What’s the delay? Shall our grandfather lay here unburied in a state of disgrace until Naftali arrives?” He hit Esau on the head, causing his death. Esau’s head was then severed and rolled into the cave (Pirkei D’rabbi Eliezer 38). As a side point, this is the story of how Esau’s head ended up being buried in the Machpelah. Esau, the father of the Western Civilization, which separates head and heart as symbolized by the necktie worn by Westernized men, did not merit to have his entire body buried in the Machpelah. Only his head, wherein holy sparks are trapped, merited burial in the second holiest place in the world.
The Children of Naftali Saving Israel from Sisera
Naftali was also “sent forth” to wage war with Sisero many generations later, during the time of the Judges. “Take with you ten thousand men of the people of Naftali…” (Shoftim 4:6). There too, the expression “shalach” is used “into the valley they rushed (shalach)” (verse 15), as they marched rapidly. The second part of our verse can also be applied to the war with Sisero. “He gives goodly words” as the ten thousand men of Naftali gave rise to the song of praise that Devorah and Barak sang (Shoftim chapter 5). Naftali is compared to a female rather than a male deer, in order to allude to Devorah who descended from him. Even the word אִשָׁה/isha – woman is hinted in the initials of the words of our verse as follows: אַיָּלָה שְׁלֻחָה הַנֹּתֵן/ayala shelucha hanoten – “a hind sent forth that gives” (The Ritba on Bereishit 49:21). Thus on Ya’acov’s deathbed he prophesied about the salvation that would come about through a woman (Devorah) from the tribe of Naftali, who was swift on her legs as a hind (Radak).
The Fruits of Naftali’s Land are Quick to Ripen
The Legs of Emunah (Faith)
The “goodly words” are words of praising Hashem in song. When we are filled with emunah in the Creator we begin to sing and praise Hashem. Arizal teaches that the legs are connected with emunah. The meaning of “Naftali is a hind sent forth” is that he has strong legs, which enables him to run swiftly. This alludes to the fact that his emunah in Hashem is strong. Because of his great emunah “he gives goodly words” in songs and praises of Hashem. This concurs with Targum Yonatan’s translation of our verse: “The tribe of Naftali sings beautifully.” Because of their strong emunah in Hashem they always sing beautifully in praise of Him (Kedushat HaLevi). Naftali shares this ability to sing with the Levites. The word שיר/shir – song means link. Both of these tribes serve as connectors in Israel. Whereas Levi connects Israel to their father in Heaven, Naftali’s faithful song also connects all of the tribes to one another May we tune into Naftali’s emunah and merit to always see the good in our lives, and may we never stop singing!