14 Jun 2006

Naphtali was born on the fifth of Tishrei, and lived 133 years.

He was the second son of Yaakov and Bilhah, the handmaiden of Rachel, and the sixth son of Yaakov, overall. When he was born, we find (Bereshit 30:8), “And Rachel said, ‘Sacred schemes have I maneuvered to equal my sister, and I have also prevailed!’ And she called his name, ‘Naphtali’ (my scheme).”

According to Gemara Sotah 13a, Naphtali was fleet of foot. And according to the Midrash “BaMidbar Rabbah” 14:11, “He was extremely sensitive to his requirement to honor his father, and his father would send him on many different missions. He was very pleasing to his father, and his speech was extremely pleasant, and for those reasons, Yaakov blessed him” (more than most of the brothers, who received a measure of criticism in “Birchot Yaakov,” the “Blessings of Yaakov,” together with their blessing).

He also acted as a messenger for his brothers, and went willingly wherever they would send him. (“Midrash HaGadol,” Bereshit 49:21).
He used this physical gift as a means to defend Yoseph. When he heard that the brothers were plotting to kill him, Naphtali ran to tell Yehudah, the leader among the brothers, and he saved Yoseph. (“Midrash Aggadah,” Bereshit 49:21)

Naphtali was also a bearer of good tidings. According to one Midrash, he was the one who told Yaakov, “Yoseph is still alive.” (“Targum Yonatan,” Bereshit 49:21) It is somewhat odd that the same Midrash, in a different place (Bereshit 46:17) identified Serach bas Asher as the one who delivered this joyous message to Yaakov. Unless Serach and Naphtali acted together in this sacred task.

For all the ways enumerated in which Naphtali used his blessings of fleetness of foot and ability to formulate pleasant speech, Yaakov said of him, “Naphtali is a deer sent forth, who delivers beautiful sayings.” (Bereshit 49:21) And Moshe Rabbeinu blessed his Tribe in a similar vein, “…Naphtali is satiated with favor, and filled with HaShem’s Blessing; go possess the coast and the southern shore.” (Devarim 33:23)

Naphtali was buried in “Kedesh Naphtali,” that was part of his tribal inheritance in “Eretz Yisrael.”