April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

In many shuls on Shavuot night, there is a panel of speakers arranged for every hour or so until it comes time for Shacharit. Imagine the first speaker goes up and delivers a fascinating shiur. Quite impressed, the audience is excited to hear the next lecture. The second speaker begins, and to their surprise says the same exact idea as the first! Now just imagine if speaker after speaker all spoke about the same idea! Even assuming the crowd is still wide awake due to the caffeine, in all honesty they would probably not be too happy, to say the least.

In this parsha are the offerings of the Nesiim. One after the other, they all brought the same offering. Not only that, the Torah (Bamidbar, chp. 7) goes to great length detailing each aspect of the offerings, even though they were all identical to the first! Why didn’t the Torah just spell out the details of the first Nasi’s offering and then say that every other Nasi after him brought the same offering as well?

R’ Yaakov Neiman brings in the name of R’ Simcha Zissel that the significance of the Torah writing out over and over all the details of each offering of every Nasi, even though they were exactly the same, is to show to us that even if a large amount of people are doing a mitzvah, Hashem doesn’t look at it from a general perspective such as “that group” did such and such mitzvah, but rather, Hashem considers and sees each individual within that group as his own person. The Nesiim could have been bundled in a group, and the Torah could have said “they” all brought that offering, but instead the Torah wrote so many “extra” words to show how Hashem isolates each specific person and gives them their own independent sense of importance. Indeed, Hashem’s joy and love for every individual person’s good deeds isn’t diminished in the least just because many other people are all doing the same thing, for since Hashem’s “ability” to love is boundless and endless, and each time we do a good deed, its viewed as totally independent and personal, and is afforded an undivided love for it.

It may happen that a person may feel discouraged or lack motivation to make a positive impact because “everybody is doing it.” Everyone davens, what’s my tefilla gonna do? Everyone learns, what’s my learning gonna do? There’s this chesed organization and that one, and so many people are already active in helping, what’s my contribution going to do? Yet if a person sees his life and input as if all of Hashem’s attention is on him, perhaps one can realize the difference he can make. Even those constantly involved in mitzvot may not give themselves the appropriate credit and instead view their good actions as swallowed up within the actions of everyone else that’s on the same page. However, from Hashem’s perspective whatever good deed we do is viewed as totally personal, unique and independent: It’s as if it’s all about us, and no one else is doing what we are doing.

The Mishnah (Sanhedrin) indicates that every person is to live his life with the following “slogan”: בשבילי נברא העולם—“the world was created for me.” These powerful words aren’t an excuse to live selfishly, obviously, but rather they invigorate a person’s sense of responsibility to the world and the impact he can make on it. Yet based on the above, we can explain that perhaps this “mission statement” is also meant to help us internalize the one to one relationship we have with Hashem, and that our avodat Hashem in this world is looked upon by Hashem with undivided attention, as if it’s all about “me.” This idea is perhaps coded in the words of Pirkei Avot (chp. 1), which says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” Perhaps we can explain that one is to be “for myself,” “for me”—meaning, to view himself as if his avodat Hashem is between him and Hashem and that Hashem’s attention and hopes are fixed solely on him.

This idea is so imperative that it may be at the core of the tragedy involving Rabbi Akiva’s students. Twelve thousand students of Rabbi Akiva perished, and the Gemara explains that the reason why they died is because they didn’t accord honor to each other. How can it be that such great people, students of R’ Akiva, didn’t respect each other properly? R’ Mordechai Rosenbaum (Ateres Shmuel, Essay on interpersonal relationships, p. 5 & 6) brings in the name of a certain great rav who suggested that perhaps the challenge of R’ Akiva’s students was that they were all part of a massive group—12,000 rabbis!—and as a result viewed the other as “part of the overwhelming majority,” not seeing the other as his own unique person. They therefore didn’t appreciate and respect the good deeds of the other.

Hence, this individualistic framework and mindset also encourages and lends itself to the way we perceive another person’s avodat Hashem. For by recognizing that the person next to us also has Hashem’s undivided attention, and that Hashem relates to him also from an individualistic standpoint, it behooves respect to him or her, and thus an appreciation for their good deeds.

Thus, this perspective—albeit ironically—can perhaps create a unity between one and the other. By the giving of the Torah, B’nei Yisrael reached a pinnacle of achdut. As stated in the words of Rashi (Shemot, 19:2), they were “like one person, with one heart.” Perhaps we can explain that the phrase of being “like one person” can mean that each person at Har Sinai—now imbued with the awareness of the impending official bond between him and Hashem once he accepts the Torah—recognized that their soon-to-be-official relationship with Hashem is a one-to-one relationship. Hence, each person felt like “their own person.” Not like one big group doing the same thing, but rather, “like one person.”

At the same time such a tremendous achdut was reached, perhaps because this awareness carries a dual understanding: that if for me it’s one-to-one, then for the other person it’s also one-to-one. Therefore, the appreciation one has for another person’s avodat Hashem is magnified, and the achdut is palpable—“Hashem has such a care, and gives such a love, sense of importance, and undivided attention also for that person and what he does! Wow!”

The Torah is precise, to the point, with no extra words whatsoever. Yet, Hashem “elongated” the Torah, spelling out each detail of each Nasi’s offering, thus indicating how important it is to inculcate this “one-to-one” perspective.


Binyamin Benji can be reached at [email protected]

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