This is a system that I came up with after studying a large amount of material associated with the Twelve Tribes of Israel. It is based on the premise that there are meant to be twelve entirely different paths to Jewish observance, that each path has its own unique philosophy and role to play in the Nation as a whole, and that the Tribes symbolize these paths.
All twelve paths are founded on Torah observance, however since they emphasize different core virtues as being paramount, some are closer to what we tend to think of as Torah-observant today than others (e.g. the Tribe representing Tradition is more aligned with what we call “Orthodoxy” than the Tribe representing Lovingkindness, though none would disagree that both are certainly core values in the Torah). Some closely parallel a particular group of modern Jews, others are less well-represented as groups in modern times, though their philosophies do definitely exist among Jews.
The ideal state of the Jewish People is for each of these groups to appreciate the role of the others, while still remaining strong in their own Tribe’s philosophy and lifestyle. Currently all of the Tribes are incomplete because they do not fully accept each other; understanding each others’ roles is the first step toward rectification of the Nation of Israel.
The Tribes are broken into four “camps”, each of which serves a particular role, which makes it easier to understand what each Tribe’s role is.
I will offer some explanation of where the ideas come from when important, but due to space constraints I will not be able to explain everything. Feel free to ask for specifics in the comments.
EAST CAMP (Yehuda, Yissachar, Zevulun) – Camp of Leadership
Yehuda: Core value is Appreciation / Acknowledgement (Hoda’ah). Since appreciating others is the first step to understanding other people’s particular strengths, and understanding other people’s strengths is the key to organizing them, people raised with these values are the most suitable to leadership.
Yissachar: Core value is Merit / Reward (Schar). Tend to be very focused on “collecting” mitzvot and generally enjoying life. Contrary to what Yeshivot will tell you they did work, mostly in farming, a physically tiring job that did not require they travel far, allowing them to relax by studying at night as the reward for a day’s work well done. A lifestyle revolving around this work/study balance made them suitable judges – combining Torah principles with worldly experience, with little exposure to foreign philosophies.
Zevulun: Core value is drawing people close (Zevul = to gather into a pile, yes this is a cognate to the modern Hebrew word for garbage but it originally just meant a heap of anything). Traveled around the world for business purposes and played a major role in being “a light to the Nations”. Gentiles would learn proper business practices from Zevulun and they were instrumental for spreading the light of Torah values around the world. Their interaction with Yissachar went both ways – supporting their scholars and teaching them of the world outside, and in turn learning the principles of the Torah from them.
SOUTH CAMP (Reuven, Shimon, Gad) – Camp of the Common People
Reuven: Core value is Lovingkindness. The classical “Shepherd” ideal who sees everyone less fortunate than them as needing to be protected and supported, but can be prone to error as a result of trying to please everyone or put everyone on equal ground.
Shimon: Core value is Tradition. Philosophy is very black-and-white, with an emphasis on establishing clear boundaries between the in-group and out-group, the permitted and forbidden, and has a hard time distinguishing shades of gray or resisting temptation once it is “in the walls”. Isolationist and can be snobbish towards anyone they perceive as “less” than them, but NOT zealous or violent on their own (that’s Levi’s trait). Their main role was schoolteachers and scribes, roles requiring a very black-and-white outlook on right and wrong and precision, respectively.
Gad: Core value is Unity / Binding together (Agudah). Very nationalistic and places a high emphasis on military or national service, not only to defend the people but to force people from all walks of life to learn how to interact with each other. Normally paired with Asher, but placed in the South Camp to unify the naturally opposing Tribes of Reuven and Shimon. Their main role was vanguards in times of war and government service in times of peace.
WEST CAMP (Yosef/Ephraim, Levi/Menashe, Binyamin)* – The “Face” of the Nation
Yosef/Ephraim: Core value is Self-Mastery. Internalizes the Torah’s values so they can live anywhere and interact with anyone without giving up their principles, while at the same time taking on just enough traits of the people they live among to gain their respect. Their main role is diplomacy and they play a major part in the interactions with foreign nations.
Levi/Menashe: Core value is Service. Considers service of God to be paramount in life and serves as the spiritual center for the Nation. Their idealism gives them a tendency toward extreme violent zealotry when they have conclusively identified a target as being unambiguously evil, though they are usually humble enough to not judge people harshly except in extreme circumstances. Dangerous when alongside Shimon, who is very quick to judge.
Binyamin: A paradox of a Tribe whose philosophy encompasses the strengthening of the Nation through hardship and the ability to find joy by standing against despair. The preservers of the Nation in exile and other times of difficulty.
NORTH CAMP (Dan, Asher, Naftali) – Fixing the Broken Pieces
Dan: Core values are Introspection and Humility. The “lowest” Tribe and the one that tended to take in any misfits who didn’t belong anywhere else, they served as a window into the hidden parts of the National philosophy, both on an individual level and in a meta-sense. Any problems in the cohesion of the Nation as a whole would tend to appear in this Tribe first. This made Dan instrumental in determining what issues needed to be addressed.
Asher: Core value is Reparation. Highly attached to the nationalistic ideal, like Gad, but with a greater emphasis on determining what needs to be built, added, or changed to make the Nation work better. In the past their main role was olive farming, a role highly connected to the Temple. In modern times they may be heavily invested in coming up with new technology, ideally with the vision of making the material world align more closely with God’s will (Tikkun Olam).
Naftali: Core value is Transformation. People with this ideology are constantly seeking to change themselves by learning new things, driving them to interact with people from all of the other Tribes. This makes them become experts in communication, and allows them to fulfill their role of managing the distribution of media that shapes the psyche of the Nation as a whole.