D’var Torah: Parashat Naso

17 May

Repetition repetition repetition, Parashat Naso contains a lot. As a bar mitzvah boy I was puzzled, although thrilled because there was less to learn, that the parasha insisted on using the same language to express the same occurrence. For twelve days the head of each tribe brought an offering that served to inaugurate the mishkan, which was now ready to be dedicated. In fact, all of chapter seven’s verses, 89, in total, are devoted to these tributes. After introducing the forthcoming gifts, a list detailing the offerings of each tribe is  provided, using the following formula:

נה  קָרְבָּנוֹ קַעֲרַת-כֶּסֶף אַחַת, שְׁלֹשִׁים וּמֵאָה מִשְׁקָלָהּ, מִזְרָק אֶחָד כֶּסֶף, שִׁבְעִים שֶׁקֶל בְּשֶׁקֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ; שְׁנֵיהֶם מְלֵאִים, סֹלֶת בְּלוּלָה בַשֶּׁמֶן–לְמִנְחָה.  his offering was one silver dish, the weight thereof was a hundred and thirty shekels, one silver basin of seventy shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary; both of them full of fine flour mingled with oil for a meal-offering;
נו  כַּף אַחַת עֲשָׂרָה זָהָב, מְלֵאָה קְטֹרֶת.  one golden pan of ten shekels, full of incense;
נז  פַּר אֶחָד בֶּן-בָּקָר, אַיִל אֶחָד כֶּבֶשׂ-אֶחָד בֶּן-שְׁנָתוֹ–לְעֹלָה.  one young bullock, one ram, one he-lamb of the first year, for a burnt-offering;
נח  שְׂעִיר-עִזִּים אֶחָד, לְחַטָּאת.  one male of the goats for a sin-offering;
נט  וּלְזֶבַח הַשְּׁלָמִים, בָּקָר שְׁנַיִם, אֵילִם חֲמִשָּׁה עַתֻּדִים חֲמִשָּׁה, כְּבָשִׂים בְּנֵי-שָׁנָה חֲמִשָּׁה:  זֶה קָרְבַּן גַּמְלִיאֵל, בֶּן-פְּדָהצוּר.  {פ}  and for the sacrifice of peace-offerings, two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, five he-lamb of the first year.
Torah inside of the former Glockengasse Synago...

Torah inside of the former Glockengasse Synagogue in Cologne (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When discussing the miskan, it is critical to remember that we are dealing with the location, although portable, in which Gods presence will reside following the consecration. Rashi, commenting on verse 85 of chapter seven, explains that individual mention of each tribe and subsequent summary at the end of the parasha is to remind us that we are dealing with holy vessels. Rashi takes his explanation an additional step that provides support for his reading, quoting the Sifrei (54) who says that the weight of the vessels is given only in shekels, a holy measurement, which is not the typical weight by which such vessels would be measured, proving the sanctity of the dedication, as well as a potential method by which to explain the repetition. From day to day, the only textual difference is the tribe and the name of the tribal chief who was entrusted with representation. Following the list of the tribes is a recapping of the total amount of each object. Why is it necessary to list a play-by-play of the daily offerings plus the summation, would it not have been enough for the Torah to teach us that each tribe brought the same items, of a specific quantity, equaling a certain amount?

Having suggested reasons for the day-by-day description of the offerings, we must now turn to the Ramban in order to understand the inventory that appears at the end of the parasha. The Ramban quotes Rabi Moshe Hadarshan who understands the summation as a testament to the accuracy and of the weights and measures as a semi-miracle. In the ancient world scales were inaccurate, when precious metals were weighed and reweighed, the results were variable, but for the holy donations to the mishkan, an accurate accounting was made when the gifts were delivered, and when they were all weighed together. However, Rashi and the Ramban turn to the Sifrei (54), preferring instead to offer the possibility that every vessel was crafted by the artisans to the precise specifications that God demanded, a testimony to their devotion and attention to detail. So accurate was their work that when weighed separately and together, there was no discrepancy.  That the weights were consistent is interpreted by some as a miracle, perhaps divinely inspired, especially given the technological shortcomings of the day, is a notion with which the Ramban is clearly not entirely comfortable.

Obviously the questions posed above are based on the principle that there are no superfluous words in the Torah, and the answers are forced to take that assumption into consideration.  As somebody who is currently undertaking the learning of countless halakhic details while sometimes struggling to see the embedded kedusha, I prefer the Sifrei’s perspective, it is through precise measurements, attention to detail, and devotion that every item was crafted, which speaks to the holiness of the purpose they are intended to fulfill, thus making the repetition necessary. I hope to import the sanctity of details into my own learning.

Shabbat shalom.

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