One of the most striking components of Parshas Naso is the listing of all the princes, the nessi’im, of the Children of Israel, and the gift offerings that they brought in conjunction with the dedication of the Mishkan.
Despite the fact that each and every nasi brought the same gift as his predecessor, the Torah details each offering with exactitude: it does not skimp on detail or abbreviate its significance.
Over and over again, the Torah meticulously states the name of the nasi, the tribe he headed, and the gift that he brought.
“He brought his offering – one silver bowl, its weight a hundred and thirty [shekels]; and one silver basin of seventy shekels in the sacred shekel; both of them filled with fine flour mixed with oil for a meal-offering, one gold ladle of ten [shekels] filled with incense. One young bull, one ram, one sheep in its first year for an elevation offering. One he-goat for a sin-offering. And for a feast peace-offering – two cattle, five rams, five he-goats, five sheep in their first year … this is the offering of …”
These verses are repeated in tandem for each and every prince — their identical offerings exacted as if they were the only ones.
The Torah, which can consolidate laws that fill expansive Talmudic tomes into merely a few brief words, chose to elaborate expansively in order to give each nasi his place in the eternal spotlight of the Torah’s wisdom. Why?
Rabbi Paysach Krohn, in the first book of his classic Maggid Series, relates the story of Rav Yitzchak Elchonon Spektor, the Kovno Rav. Under Russian law, all young men were obliged to enlist in the army. Besides the obvious ubiquitous threat of violent death, maintaining any semblance of religious observance in the army was virtually impossible. The only way out was an exemption from army service.
Yaakov, a student who was much beloved by his rebbi, Rav Yitzchak Elchonon, applied for an exemption. Moscow did not immediately respond to the request, and each day Yaakov’s friends, together with their beloved Rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Elchonon, waited to hear any news of whether Yaakov’s exemption was accepted.
One afternoon, Rav Yitzchak Elchonon was engrossed in a Rabbinic litigation. He sat together with Rav Elya Boruch Kamai, the Rav of Mir, and a third distinguished Rav. They were litigating a complex problem involving two wealthy businessmen. Both side was willing to compromise, and for hours the three Rabbis attempted to find an amicable yet halachically acceptable resolution.
Suddenly, the door opened and a young man stuck his head into the room. As soon as he saw Rav Yitzchak Elchonon, he excitedly addressed him. “Rebbi!” he exclaimed. “We just got the news, Yaakov was granted an exemption!” Rav Yitzchak Elchonon breathed a sigh of relief and said with a radiant smile, as he showered him with blessings. “May G-d bless you for bringing this wonderful news. May you merit long years and good health. Thank you ever so much!”
The boy left smiling, glad that he had made his rebbi so happy. Immediately the Rabbis resumed deliberations in an attempt to resolve the din Torah.
A few minutes later, another student opened the door. Not knowing that his rebbi already knew the news, he apologized for interrupting saying he had something very important to share. Then he announced with joy, “Rebbi, we’ve gotten word that Yaakov is exempt!”
Rav Yitzchak Elchonon replied with just as much enthusiasm as he had the first time. “How wonderful!” He showered him with blessings as well. “May G-d bless you for bringing this wonderful news. May you merit long years and good health. Thank you ever so much!”
The boy closed the door and left, beaming with joy that he had made his rebbi so happy.
Five minutes later, yet a third boy entered the room. “Rebbi, did you hear? Yaakov is exempt!” Once again Rav Yitzchak Elchonon smiled broadly and blessed the boy for the wonderful news. He thanked him and blessed him in the exact manner as with the previous boys.
Six times, different boys came in with the same news, each one anticipating the happiness their rebbi would feel at the news, each one not aware that others had preceded him. Rav Yitzchak Elchonon smiled at each boy, expressed his gratitude and made him feel as important as the first one.
The Ponovez Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Eliezer Schach, of blessed memory, once explained in a talk to his students that the attention to the honor of a fellow Jew is one of the most important lessons we can learn. Therefore the Torah repeated and repeated each and every Nasi with the same enthusiasm to teach us the importance of respect for the individual.
And now that the story of the repetitive princes was incorporated into the Torah, the lesson of individual attention, too, becomes not just a lesson in morality, but a portion of the Torah, whose study merits the same value as the most intricate laws that are contained in the most difficult portions. Because a lesson about honoring a fellow Jew is surely worth repeating.
Dedicated in memory of Irving I. Adelsberg by the Adelsberg Family.
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Associate Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.
Drasha is the e-mail edition of FaxHomily, a weekly torah facsimile on the weekly portion which is sponsored by The Henry and Myrtle Hirsch Foundation