The following information pertains to all the twelve sons of Yaakov, also known as the “Shivtei Kah,” the founders of the Tribes of HaShem. The dates that appear above indicate the year of birth of the first son, Reuven, and the year of his death, because Reuven was the longest-lived son of Yaakov (155 years), and his lifetime encompassed the lives of all of his brothers.
All the sons were born to Yaakov during the years that he worked for his father-in-law, Lavan, in Padan-Aram, except Binyamin. Binyamin was born afterwards, en route from Beit-El to Efrat, in a pregnancy that took the life of his mother, the beloved wife of Yaakov, Rachel. In addition to Rachel, Yaakov had three wives who were the mothers of his sons. They were Leah, the sister of Rachel, Bilhah, the handmaiden of Rachel, and Zilpah, the handmaiden of Leah.
The following is a list of the sons of Yaakov in the order of their birth, and an identification of the mother of each son. Those that are shown as “links” correspond to sons for whom information currently exists in the “Great Jewish Leaders” set of “biographies.” The others are under active construction.
1. Reuven – Leah
2. Shimon – Leah
3. Levi – Leah
4. Yehudah – Leah
5. Dan – Bilhah
6. Naphtali – Bilhah
7. Gad – Zilpah
8. Asher – Zilpah
9. Yissachar – Leah
10. Zevulun – Leah
11. Yoseph – Rachel
12. Binyamin – Rachel
There are six possible windows into the characters of the sons of Yaakov:
1. The name given to the son, which is usually preceded by an explanation in terms of the mother’s strong feelings, which probably entered into the way that she raised her son.
2. The blessing or, more accurately, the character analysis that their father, Yaakov, provided for each son before his death.
3. Incidents recounted in the Chumash, in which the particular son played a role.
4. The behavior of the Tribe described by the Chumash or in the later sections of Tanach that frequently mirrors the individual behavior and personality of its founder.
5. The blessing or again, more accurately, the character analysis of the Tribe provided by the “master psychologist” Moshe Rabbeinu, on the last day of his life.
6. Comments in the Talmud or the Midrash about the life of the son or the activities of the Tribe.