Parshas Naso: A Lesson in Middos from the Korbanos of the Nisiim

At the end of this week’s parsha, Parshas Naso, we learn of the korbanos (offerings and gifts to the Mishkan) of the twelve Nisiim (tribal princes), which they offered on the occasion of the Chanukas ha’Mishkan (inauguration of the Mishkan) (Bamidbar, Chapter 7).  Hashem commanded Moshe that the princes should offer their offerings in the order of the tribal encampments (Rashi to Bamidbar 7:11). Hence, the Eastern Division (East was considered the front), consisting of the tribes of Yehuda, Yissachar and Zevulun, brought their offerings first, in that order.  The first prince to offer his offering was the Nasi of Shevet Yehuda, Nachshon ben Aminadav (Bamidbar 7:12-17).  He was followed by the Nasi of Shevet Yissachar, Nesanel ben Tzuar.  And he was followed by the Nasi of Shevet Zevulun, Eliyav ben Cheilon.

In precise and repetitive detail, the Torah lists the exact offering of each tribal prince, even though each tribal prince offered the exact same offering!  In a Torah that is so medakdek (exacting) with words, in a Torah where not one word, nor one letter, is wasted or superfluous, why did the offering of each tribal prince need to be repeated?  In fact, the repetition makes this perek (chapter) eighty-nine pasukim (verses) long; one of the longest in the entire Torah (if not the longest)!  Would it not have been easier and more concise for the Torah to detail the identical offering and tell us that this was the offering of each tribal prince, one prince per day?

There are many answers and many explanations given, but the following insight not only teaches us about the Nisiim, but contains a strong lesson and mussar for all of us as well.  Rabbi Yissocher Frand teaches, “The Midrash relates that the prince of Yehuda, Nachshon ben Aminadav, brought his offering, and then it was Nesanel ben Tzuar’s turn.  He was faced with a dilemma.  What should he bring?  What would be the ramifications of his decision?

“We can answer using a bar mitzvah analogy.  It is not unusual for one shul to have a bar mitzvah celebration every Shabbos for twelve consecutive weeks.  Now let us say that the food served at the first bar mitzvah was a fruit cup, a quarter of chicken, a piece of potato kugel, glazed carrots and chocolate ice cream for dessert.  Everything goes wonderfully.  Terrific.

“Now here comes week two.  The mother of the next bar mitzvah boy has a problem.  What should she serve?  Fruit cup is out, as is a quarter of chicken and kugel.  Two weeks in a row?  She would be a laughingstock in the community.  So she opts for a chicken cutlet and the broccoli kugel.  Everything goes well.  Disaster has been avoided.

“Now comes week three.  The mother of this boy considers the gravity of the situation.  Chicken is certainly out, as are chicken cutlets, and potato and broccoli kugels.  Forget about the fruit cup and the chocolate ice cream.  This situation obviously calls for roast beef and grilled vegetables.  And lemon mousse for dessert.  You can imagine the bar mitzvah boy’s mother by week twelve!  What can they possibly serve at her son’s bar mitzvah?!  They would have to find the most exotic foods, and they would have to pay the most exotic prices.

“All this went through Nessanel ben Tzuar’s mind.  Not bar mitzvah menus, of course, but escalation; the dangers of each one outdoing the other.  Nachshon ben Aminadav had already brought his offering.  If Nesanel ben Tzuar were to one-up Nachshon, there would be no end to it.  The pressure on each prince and tribe would mount, as would the anger, jealousy, resentment and no doubt, the lashon harah as well.

“So Nesanel ben Tzuar did an incredible thing.  He brought exactly the same offering that Nachson had brought the day before.  He didn’t add, detract, embellish or offer his own creativity or natural talents.  This enabled all those behind him to do the same thing, and thus all their offerings were identical.  Nesanel ben Tzuar set the tone – all Jews are the same in the eyes of Hashem.

“The Midrash concludes that Hashem showed His pleasure in an unusual way.  A korban yachid, a private offering of an individual, is never brought on Shabbos.  Only a korban tzibbur, a communal offering, may be brought on Shabbos.  The offerings of the tribal princes, however, were brought on twelve consecutive days, including over Shabbos, even though they were korbanos yachid.

“Since these offerings were deliberately identical, one to another, in order to avoid evoking hatred and jealousy between the tribes, and since they promoted a sense of community, harmony and shalom, Hashem considered them as if they were actually korbanos tzibburcommunal offerings! – and allowed them to be brought on Shabbos” (Rabbi Frand on the Parashah, Artscroll Mesorah, p.207-208).

What an incredible and beautiful insight the Medrash teaches us.  Of course, in life, the reality is is that we are all different from one another, and the way one lives and spends is not the way another lives and spends.  Simchas differ from person to person and family to family, as do winter or summer vacations, restaurant spending, clothing purchases, cost of entertainment and grocery bills.  And yet, we must always be cognizant that in our close-knit communities, our actions, decisions, and “offerings” do impact and affect others.

While every person and family should spend and live according to their means and the gifts the RS”O bestows upon them, as Torah Jews, we must nevertheless be sensitive to all those around us.  We must be careful not to flaunt what we have in front of others who have less, we must try not to “one up” each other simply for the sake of being more extravagant, and we must always remember to thank Hashem for all His boundless gifts, for He is the Source of all that we have, and thus, bring kavod to His Name in the way we live our lives.

הִגִּיד לְךָ אָדָם, מַהטּוֹב; וּמָההדּוֹרֵשׁ מִמְּךָ, כִּי אִםעֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד, וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת, עִםאֱלֹקֶיךָI will tell you, man, what is good and what Hashem seeks from you: only to do justice, love loving-kindness, and walk humbly with your G-d (Michah 6:8).

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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