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Torah Portion: Naso

Book of Numbers

Chaps. 4:21-7:89

June 17, 2016

            Have you ever attended a birthday celebration, baby shower, or other event requiring one to bring a gift only to find that someone else brought the same gift. Didn’t it feel just a little bit awkward? How about an event where everyone who attended brought the same gift? This is what happened in this week’s Torah reading.

On the occasion of the completion of the portable desert sanctuary (“Tabernacle”) the prince of each Israelite tribe brought a gift in celebration. The gifts were identical. Each brought:

“One silver bowl weighing 130 shekels and one silver basin of 70 shekels by the sanctuary weight, both filled with choice flour with oil mixed in, for a grain offering; one gold ladle of 10 shekels, filled with incense; one bull of the herd, one ram, and one lamb in its first year, for burnt offerings; one goat for a purification offering; and for his sacrifice of well being: two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, and five yearling lambs.” (Num. 7)

And, all the above were brought 12 times! Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a founder of modern Orthodoxy, taught that the repetition demonstrates that, at that moment of celebration, all of Israel, regardless of tribe or communal role, was equal. No tribe could be judged as better or worse than the other in relation to the gifts they brought.

A midrash (legend) offers an even more compelling understanding of the gift giving. The ancient rabbinic teaching suggests that there was a crucial difference in the gifts being offered. Though they were the same in content, each prince had a different motivation for giving. One felt gratitude for having been included in the building of this important edifice. Another was thankful for the opportunity of realizing this historical moment. The same gift for very different reasons.

There is sage advice in the old cliché, “It’s not the gift but the thought that counts.” A gift implies you thought about the person to whom you are giving.  For some, a gift says what words can’t. For others, a gift concretizes one’s words. For everyone, the real gift is the giving of “self”. Rabbi Elliot Kleinman writes, “What we need is to put some sweat into bestowing the gifts we bring with the most precious gift we have to offer-ourselves. In religious terms, the sacred is not to be found in the appearance of the act of spirituality but in the spirit we bring to the act.”

Rabbi Howard Siegel


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