Parshas Nasso – The Offering of the Tribal Leaders

By Avner Friedmann

On the first day of the month of Nisan, the day the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was sanctified, the leaders of the twelve tribes brought their own voluntary offerings and gifts in celebration of the momentous event. They intended to bring all their offerings on that day, as it is written[1]: “Then the leaders brought forward offerings for the dedication of the Altar on the day it was anointed…” However, Hashem told Moshe to spread their offerings over a period of twelve days, one tribal offering for each day, as it is written[2]: “One leader each day, one leader each day, shall they bring their offering for the dedication of the Altar”.

Now, all twelve offerings were identical. The Torah repeats each offering separately in a lengthy section and then gives the sum total of all the offerings. However, why does the Torah repeat the very same wording twelve times? As a general rule, the Torah is very terse in its wording and uses no superfluous words. What is the reason for this repetition?

The Ramban[3] says that even though the leaders agreed amongst themselves to bring their offerings on a single day, Hashem did not think it would be appropriate just to mention the offerings of one tribe and then to state something to the effect of, “And so it was with all of them”. Hashem wanted to give the proper honor and respect to each of His servants by allowing each leader his own separate day with a separate account of his offering. He then summed up the totals, thus demonstrating that He favored them all equally. Don Yitzchak Abarvanel[4] adds that the leaders were all of equal stature and that they agreed amongst themselves to bring identical offerings in order to avoid any jealousy or false pride that could possibly arise.

Hashem desires that there should be unity amongst the Jewish people. We find that unity was a prerequisite for receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, as it is written[5]: “And Israel encamped there, opposite the mountain”[6]. Rashi comments by saying, “As one man with one heart”.

Nonetheless, along with the need for unity, each tribe also had its own holy mission and special way of serving Hashem, as handed down to them by their father Ya’akov. The unique characteristic of Judah is kingship, the characteristic of Issachar is Torah scholarship, etc. etc.[7] Each tribe had its special mission and characteristics.

In other words, unity does not mean uniformity. Rather, unity means harmony amongst diverse forces that complement each other. Each one fills a need that the other is lacking and together they make up an entire organism, so to speak. As an example, to be effective, an army needs different forces, such as an air force, a navy, tank divisions and infantry etc., and as we know, the Torah calls the Jewish people the “Armies of HaShem” (Tzivot HaShem). Each tribe has a separate mission and function, but through their leaders they combine into one common national goal and destiny – “As one man with one heart”.

We often have the tendency to view diversity negatively. The twelve tribes, however, celebrated their diversity. From the twelve tribes we can learn how to appreciate the beauty of our different customs and traditions. This is why the Torah devoted a special section for the offering of each tribe individually, using virtually identical verses, and then summed up the grand totals.

The Midrash explains[8] that even though, on the surface of it, it looks like the actions and sacrifices of the tribal leaders were identical, in truth each leader instilled his own unique thoughts and intentions into his offering, thus alluding to his tribe’s unique spiritual essence. Our sages tell us[9], “The Holy One, Blessed is He, desires the heart”, as it is written[10]: “Hashem sees into the heart”.

The body of our mitzvot and prayers are identical for all of us. The important difference is specifically in the soul of our mitzvot- our own sincere thoughts and intentions when performing them. When a person gives a gift to his friend – his love toward his friend and his friend’s love toward him increases and they are drawn closer to each other. So it is when we give ourselves over to Hashem. Our love towards Him increases and we are drawn closer to Him, which is the purpose of our Torah and mitzvot. This is why this Torah section, as lengthy as it looks, does not have an extra letter in it.

Now, just like there is uniqueness to each tribe, there is uniqueness to each and every Jew. Everyone has his own special mission and reason for coming into this world, and there is nothing more pleasing to Hashem than when we devote ourselves to perform our mission. With HaShem’s help, in addition to learning Torah and performing mitzvot, each one of us should merit in finding our own unique role in the world. When we do our part, we increase HaShem’s glory in the world and bring the true and complete redemption with the coming of Moshiach, all the closer, may it be speedily in our days, Amen.

[1] 7:10.

[2] 7:11.

[3] Bamidbar 7:2.

[4] Bamidbar.

[5] Yitro 19:2.

[6] Netivot Shalom, Nasso.

[7] See Ya’akov’s blessings to his children Vayechi 49:1-28.

[8] Says Netivot Shalom.

[9] Sanhedrin 106b.

[10] Isaiah 33:18.

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