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Bamidbar (Numbers) 4:21-7:89
Third Triennial Torah Reading: Naso 7:1-89
Thoughts on Parashat Naso: Saving the Best for Last
Naso is the longest portion in our cycle of Torah readings—176 verses. As the portion
opens, the census of the tribe of Levi is continued from Parashat Bamidbar—there is an
expansion of the census which includes a discussion and review of the Priestly functions in the Mishkan. Following this are the laws of the sotah (how a court—Beit Din—interprets a situation of an adulterous woman) and the laws of the nazir—one who takes ascetic vows. Naso concludes with the Priestly Blessing (Birkat Kohanim) and the series of offerings that the leaders of the tribes brought in honor of the inauguration of the Mishkan.
At the heart of Parashat Naso is a repetitive description of the offerings brought by the
leaders of each of the tribes in honor of the anointing of the altar. Each prince, beginning
with Nahshon ben Ammindav of the Tribe of Judah, brings the same exact offering:
One silver bowl weighing one hundred and thirty shekels and one silver basin of seventy
shekels by the sanctuary weight . . . one gold ladle of ten shekels filled with incense; one
bull of the herd, one ram, and one lamb in its first year for a burnt offering; one goat for a
sin offering; and for his sacrifice of well being: two oxen, five rams, five goats, and five
yearling lambs. (Num. 7: 13–17)
Given Torah’s propensity for and gift of terse language, why would it repeat the same description for each leader? Clearly, the names of the presenters could have been listed,
followed by a single description of the “gift” each of them brought. What would lead Torah
to choose the more arduous route of redundancy?
Rabbi Shmuel Avidor HaCohen writes: There is no question that the offerings brought by
each of the princes of the tribes are identical. Each of them brings the same sacrifices, the same bowl of silver, the same silver basin, and the same gold ladle filled with incense. However, even though the offerings and sacrifices were the same, the intentions and experiences of each prince were not identical. The thoughts of human beings are not the same and their particular experiences vary from person to person—even if the mechanical act is the same. Perhaps this is what Torah is coming to teach us in Parashat Naso. Yes, the technical details of each offering [are] the same. But the feeling and experience behind each offering is particular to each prince. For this reason, each prince merited a full description of their offering. (Likrat Shabbat, 147)
Rabbi HaCohen’s exegesis is moving and insightful. Even though the material dimension of each offering is precisely the same, the spiritual and emotional dimension involved in its presentation is a unique experience for each of the leaders. What we may initially perceive as redundancy is, in fact, an effort to give honor to each of the leaders of the various tribes. We, as readers of the text, are compelled to use our imaginations and hearts—and even to imagine ourselves in the role of “givers.” The essence is not simply what is given; rather, it is how it is given.
A Commentary by Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz, Director of Israel Programs, JTS