Posted on March 23, 2011
by Ron Shapiro
June 6, 2009/14 Sivan 5769
Every year on Hanukkah, many family members tend to give my brother and I the same gift. While appreciative, I am often confused since my brother and I are nothing alike.
This Shabbat we read Parashat Naso, which describes the dedication of the Mishkan and Ohel Mo’ed, the Tabernacle and Tent of Meeting. We also read this section on Hanukkah, which happens to be when I became a Bar Mitzvah. When learning the Torah I was going to read, I was confused when the third reading was nearly identical to the combination of the first two, save the names of two chieftains. As I studied the text so I could write my d’var torah, I wondered why this paragraph of gifts was repeated.
But it is only repeated once, it occurs 12 times in a row. Each day for 12 days, a prince from a different tribe of Israel would dedicate a gift to Hashem in honor of the Mishkan and Ohel Mo’ed, but every one gave the exact same thing. Why is this repeated, couldn’t the Torah have saved valuable words from a scribe?
You could ask me this question every day for 12 days and I would probably give you a different answer each time. Were the princes just not creative, like my family around Hanukkah? Were the princes so scared to give the wrong gift to Hashem that they brainstormed together and presented him with the same present? Maybe they were unsure of what Hashem would want, so they each gave him a little bit from a bunch of categories, which would add up to a lot in the end. Or maybe the first one, Nachshon ben Aminadav, was the most creative and the other 11 followed in his lead.
I am not sure I accept any of these theories. The Etz Hayim chumash provides one which is a little better. One editor said, “Although each offering was identical, each was unique to the person who brought it. The order of the tribes seems random, implying no greater status to those who came first. To each tribe, God dedicated one day, and on that day there was no gift like its gift. The sincerity of each offering was in no way diminished by the fact that another chieftain had brought an identical offering one day earlier.” Of all, I like this thought the most, but I believe it falls one step short.
In Bereishit, we read about the sons of Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, each presenting God with a gift. Abel’s gift of meat was accepted, whereas Cain’s gift of fresh fruit was not. When Cain sees this, it leads him to kill his brother Abel out of jealousy. This story is considered the root of hatred and is looked on as a paradigm for how to stop hostility.
In comparison of these two sections, the Torah teaches us that we shouldn’t try to give more for the purpose of looking better in the face of another. For one time Jewish history, our people is united. Even during a time when the Jewish people are furious at Hashem for not having meat, they are able to stand together and present him gifts. Rarely, if ever, do we see times when all Jews stand together with one opinion, but in front of Hashem, we all must show our faith and dedication as one.