Numbers 4:21 – 7:89
It is always a pleasure for me to study a Torah portion with a young person and their family as they prepare to celebrate becoming Bat Mitzvah or Bar Mitzvah. It is especially gratifying when I can discern a certain “light bulb” go off, when a student grows in understanding. This Shabbat we look forward to celebrating this milestone with Delia Kravits and her family. In the course preparing the dvar Torah that she will present, Delia came up with abundant teachings that emerged from our studies. Unfortunately, there will not be time at the service to share all of them. So we have made the choice to share one of Delia’s teachings through this forum.
I am delighted to present Delia’s comment on a significant section of our Torah reading. In this section the Torah details the 12-day celebration of the dedication of the Tabernacle, the mishkan (Num. 7: 10 – 88). The text seems to be unnecessarily long and repetitious. The traditional commentators find very little to add to this portion. But here is Delia’s response:
My portion describes how each of the twelve tribes brought the exact same types and numbers of animals to sacrifice at the dedication of the Mishkan. There were twelve days of sacrifices with each tribe having its own day. The day after day sacrifices seem like they have the same intentions and meanings. But really, the sacrifices bring a different experience and feeling to each tribe when it is their turn. The content of a sacrifice doesn’t matter, what matters is the way it affects someone personally. No one is affected the exact same way as the person who sacrificed the day before.
This relates to multiple situations in the present day. Take theatre for example. Understudies fill in for people who are sick or can’t perform. Although they may be performing the same lines, and stage directions, it brings a different feeling to the understudy and even the audience. IHN is another example. We do IHN twice a year with the same materials and locations. But we are helping and giving joy to different families, each with their own story. So even though they might be getting the same room and blankets as the last family, no two families are impacted the same exact way.
Another benefit to the tribes giving equal sacrifices is that there was no opportunity to compare. If the twelve tribes brought in different sacrifices, it would create a gift competition like we experience at birthday parties and distract from this holy event. At a birthday party, when the birthday person opens gifts, some may seem better than others. The people who bring more expensive gifts may judge other people who bring cheaper gifts. Also, the people with cheaper gifts might feel badly about themselves or their lifestyle. In Naso, each of the twelve tribes gets its own day to bring sacrifices to God. If one tribe brought in more animals, the tribe that went the next day might feel as if their sacrifice meant less. People would stop caring about the content and purpose of their sacrifice, and be focused on “beating” the other tribes. But comparison is not the point of this process. Sacrificing is meant to give everyone a chance to connect with God and show God how much they care. Just like birthday party gifts are meant to show the birthday person that you care about them.
As we read this Torah portion in the aftermath of Shavuot, as we celebrated receiving the Torah anew at Mount Sinai, we can appreciate that the potential for new meaning that the Torah carries in even its most prosaic sections is inexhaustible.
Rabbi David Greenstein – with thanks to Delia Kravits
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