April 15, 2024
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April 15, 2024
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This week’s parsha, Parshat Naso, is the longest single portion in the Torah, containing 176 verses that span myriad topics that include the continuation of the Levite census, the laws of the sotah woman, the introduction of the priestly blessing, and the laws of the Nazir. The parsha concludes with the gifts and offerings that the Nesi’im, tribal leaders, brought in honor of the Mishkan’s inauguration. While there are so many teachings and messages we can glean from this entire parsha, it is the last of the events—offerings of the Nesi’im—which intrigued me the most, especially as my mind is filled with thoughts of our first graduates as individuals and The Idea School’s first graduating class, as a whole.

In this parsha, the Torah continues to discuss the arrangements for the trek the Jewish nation is about to make through the midbar to Eretz Yisrael. The Levi’im, who are responsible for transporting the Mishkan, are counted, and their workload is divided among them. Then, towards the end of the parsha, after everything seems to have been arranged, and B’nei Yisrael should be ready to start to make its way through the midbar, with the Mishkan in place at the center of the camp, the Nesi’im, the leaders of the 12 tribes, approach Moshe with gifts.

The first of these gifts are wagons and cattle, which Hashem tells Moshe to give to the Levi’im in order to help them transport the parts of the Mishkan that they were responsible for carrying across the desert. These generous and thoughtful gifts were in response to a need that the Levi’im had and ultimately that the Bnei Yisrael would benefit from. The Nesi’im answered that need.

One would think those gifts would have been more than enough to contribute to the Community as it served the highest of purposes: to allow B’nei Yisrael to worship while on their travels in the midbar. However, the Nesi’im again approach Moshe, with yet another gift. Each one of the 12 Nesi’im brought a series of animal and vegetable sacrifices, along with keilim that they donated to the Mishkan. What is notable is that each gift from each Nasi was exactly the same. Hashem instructs Moshe to accept these gifts and orders each one of the Nesi’im to bring his sacrifice separately, one day at a time. In the parsha, the Torah then recounts each gift of each Nasi 12 separate times.

There are three main questions that occurred to me here. First, what is the purpose of this second round of gifts? Second, if they were going to bring another gift, why did they bring the exact same thing? And third, and most curious, why does the Torah make a point to repeat the gift in the text 12 individual times?

Rashi offers a beautiful explanation to these questions. “After they offered the wagons and cattle used to transport the Tabernacle, their hearts moved them to volunteer these sacrifices to dedicate the altar. If their first batch of giving—the wagons and the oxen—was essentially a response to a Communal need, this second round is an answer to an inner need on the part of the Nesi’im to give. The Nesi’im inspired themselves: They were moved by their unselfish, creative, sensitive and brotherly act of giving to give more. As such, Hashem’s response is to let them bring the sacrifices, one day at a time—Hashem seems to not only accept the spontaneous gift of each nasi, but to spotlight it, individualize it.”

The offerings may have been identical and looked the same, but deep down, they were not at all the same. Each Nasi brought one unique thing to this gift in the service of Hashem, which no other Nasi could—that of themselves. They brought their own unique gifts, talents, heart, gratitude and desire to contribute in their own way. And so, regardless of the gift itself, each individual’s korban was given in its own unique way. It deserved to have its own mention as it was uniquely theirs, deserving of its own kavod and recognition.

Another view by Sivan Rahav-Meir, author of #Parasha and leading Israeli journalist, suggests that when the same verses are related 12 times in what seems to be a boring list, the Torah is sending us a message. People are not robots. They are living, breathing, thinking, analyzing, loving, caring and feeling beings. Beings that need to give and have much to give. Each one of the Nesi’im had his own feelings, thoughts and personal touch that he brought with him when he offered the sacrifices. The list may be the same, but each person’s offering is important in its own right. And Hashem saw this and gave each Nasi a way to cultivate this need and feel a part of the Community in his own way.

The word “Naso,” in the pshat (simple meaning), literally means to count. As the Parsha begins with “And Hashem said to Moshe ‘Count [take a census] of the sons of Gerson…’” By the Torah repeating the gift 12 times, we see another strong message. Make sure to count, “Naso,” each gift individually on its own. Even though it may accumulate as part of a greater contribution, it must count individually as well, as it represents an individual’s desire to give.

There is, however, a secondary meaning of the word “Naso,” which bears meaning here as well. Naso also means “to lift” or “to elevate.”

The census that is described in detail in Bamidbar, even though it is technically an accounting in the original meaning of the word, reminds us that every single person counts. Naso teaches us that by doing this, every person is valuable. And understanding that allows us to elevate our greater Community through respecting and welcoming others. This is one of the most important lessons to be learned from sefer Bamidbar—from the census, the counting, of the desert to our vast Jewish Community of today where everyone has a place and an ability to make a difference and to elevate “Naso” themselves and the greater Jewish Community.

We all have a unique blueprint. Each one of us is a singular creation that forges their own unique path in life and also their own personal connection to the Torah. When you study Torah, you do so in your own unique way, bonding to it in a way that is uniquely your own which no one else can reproduce. In this parsha, each prince is a separate individual, each has his own thoughts and feelings about his sacrifice, and thus each of the 12 sets is different. It would be pointless for each nasi to bring the sacrifice on behalf of anyone else. Each has his own role to play, and each adds his unique and individual imprint.

As our first graduates approached their last weeks as students at The Idea School, one of their final assignments was to give their Presentation of Learning, reflecting on their years at The Idea School. These presentations were their own unique selves—looking back at how they entered high school to where they are now and what of their time here will they take with them into their next steps in their lives. These very rich, very personal, very introspective presentations made us laugh and made us cry. They made us reflect and they made us think. Ultimately, they made us learn from them. Just as the Nesi’im gave their individual, unique gifts to honor the inauguration of the Mishkan, our 18 graduates gave their unique, individual gifts of themselves to The Idea School’s inaugural graduating class, which only made the class, and our school, that much stronger.

In conclusion, as we ponder what our individual contributions can be to the world around us, one should remember that each person is blessed with individuality and unique gifts. It does not and will never look like anyone else’s. Each individual, with their own strengths, challenges, struggles and special attributes are counted as part of the Jewish Nation and have their own marks to make on society. Just as each Nasi contributed to the building of the Mishkan and giving to the Community in their own unique way, may we always merit to give of ourselves and to others; to be and to elevate “Naso,” Klal Yisrael, in different ways.


Tamara Levin is the executive director/school administrator for The Idea School.

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