By Rabbi Aba Wagensberg
One of the many topics found in this week's parsha discusses the offerings that were brought by the Nesiim (leaders) of the tribes to inaugurate the Altar and the Sanctuary. The Torah repeats all the details about each leader's offerings, even though they were identical to each other. Twelve times the Torah repeats the silver bowls, the silver basins, the golden ladles, the bulls, rams, sheep, and goats that each and every prince brought on behalf of his tribe.
This seems like strange Torah behavior because the Torah's general rule of thumb is that it likes to teach us in the shortest way possible (Pesachim, chap. 1, "Ohr L'arba'a Asar", pg. 3b). Why not just tell us the details of the first leader, Nachshon ben Aminadav, and then, at the end, just say, "And all the other leaders brought the very same thing." This would save a lot of space, ink, and time. Why draw it out in a seemingly monotonous way?
The Ramban offers two answers to this question. His first answer is that Hashem wanted to give honor to each leader individually. After all, the leaders brought their perspective offerings to honor Hashem. As such, Hashem wanted to honor them in return, as it says, "For I honor those who honor Me" (Shmuel Aleph, 2:30). Besides, if the Torah were to mention only Nachshon ben Aminadav by name, the reader might mistakenly think that he was more precious in God's eyes than the other leaders. In order that we should not make such an error, each one was mentioned by name to show that they were all considered to be equal in God's eyes.
The Ramban's second answer is based on the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba, Parshas Naso, 13:14, the Rabanan) which says that although the offering of these princes seemed the same on the surface, they were actually very different from each other because each leader had a different kavana (thought, intent) when he brought his korban. For example, when Nachshon ben Aminadav brought his offering (Naso, 7:12), he had thoughts of malchus (sovereignty). This is because Nachshon came from the tribe of Yehuda. Ya'akov Avinu had already designated Yehuda to be the progenitor of kings (Parshas Vayechi, 49:10). A king has a unique way of serving Hashem. A king 's avodas Hashem must come from a place of royalty and aristocracy. Such were the thoughts of Nachshon when he brought his korban.
However, when Nesanel ben Tzuar brought his offering (Naso, 7:18), he had thoughts about Torah. This is because Nesanel was from the tribe of Yissachar. Ya'akov Avinu had already designated Yissachar to be the pillar of Torah, engaged in its study constantly (Parshas Vayechi, 49:14; Rashi there citing Bereishis Rabba, 99:9 in Parshas Vayechi). A Ben Torah has his unique way of serving Hashem. A Ben Torah must serve Hashem with diligence. Such were the thoughts of Nesanel when he brought his korban.
When Eliav ben Cheylon brought his offering (Naso, 7:24), he had thoughts about tzedakah. This is because Eliyav came from the tribe of Zevulun. Ya'akov Avinu had already designated Zevulun to be the financial supporters of Torah (Parshas Vayechi, 49:13; Rashi there citing the Tanchuma 11). A philanthropist has his own unique way of serving Hashem. A donor must serve Hashem with generosity. Such were the thoughts of Eliav when he brought his korban.
Imagine, three different people, a king, a ben Torah, and a ba'al tzedakah, all dressed differently, each one with his distinct role to play. The same held true for the rest of the leaders. This explains why the Torah repeated each leader's korban individually. It was to show that they were different from each other.
Before adding another dimension to this Ramban, we will have to share some more information.
Prior to Moshe Rabbenu's demise, Moshe blessed the tribes of Israel. When it came to Binyamin, the verse says that Moshe said, "He hovers over him all day long, and rests between his shoulders" (Parshas V'zos Haberacha, 33:12). Rashi says that these words mean that the Beis Hamikdash, specifically the Holy of Holies, was built on the territory of Binyamin. God's Divine Presence hovers over that place all day long.
The Sifri says that the reason why the Shechina rested specifically on the portion of Binyamin was because Binyamin did not participate in the sale of Yosef. The brothers selling of Yosef was an act of sinas chinum (baseless hatred). However, Binyamin took no part in that sinas achim (hatred between brothers). Since Binyamin was sinas chinum free, the Shechina rested on his territory (See Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Vayechi, 99:1; Tehillim, 68:17; Rebbi Akiva).
We see from here that the Shechina will only rest on a place where there is achdus (unity). However, where this is strife, the Shechina departs. Once there is no Shechina, there is no shield of protection, which can result in destruction. This is exactly what happened with the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash (Yoma, chap. 1, "Shivas Yamim", pg. 9b).
Although sins create a distance between the Jewish people and God (Yeshaya, 59:2), offerings atone for sin, thus removing its barriers, generating closeness with God once again. Therefore, the root of the word "korban" is "krav" (close), representing the closeness we achieve with God once again through the offerings.
The Chida (Rosh Dovid, Parshas Emor) says that for Hashem to forgive our sins, we must have the status of God's children, because only a parent has the prerogative to forgive (Kiddushin, chap. 1, "Ha-isha Niknis", 32a, Rav Masna quoting Rav Chisda. See Tanchuma, Parshas Ha'azinu 4, based on Naso 6:26).
Now, if God is our Father and we are His children, that means that we are all brothers and sisters. Since we are all siblings, there is really no reason why we should hate each other. Yes, it's true, siblings do fight. However, deep down, there is love between them. How, then, do we allow ourselves to harbor deep seated hatred for each other?
The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains the connection between, "You are children to Hashem your God" (Parshas Re'eh, 14:1), and the second half of that verse which says, "Lo Tisgodedu" (You may not cut yourselves). Reish Lakish (Yevamos, chap. 1, "Chamesh Esrei Nashim", pg. 13b) expounds on the latter half of the verse differently. He says it means not to make "agudos agudos" (separate groups working against each other).
Meaning, since we are God's children, that means that we are all siblings. As such, we should not be branching off forming clicks which work against each other (See Malachi, 2:10). This perspective was maintained by Binyamin, the son of Ya'akov.
When he was born, Ya'akov called him, "Binyamin." Rashi says that the name "Binyamin" can be divided into two words, "Ben Yamin" (right hand son). What does this mean?
The Shvilei Pinchas explains that when Binyamin was born, Ya'akov saw, with his Divine Inspiration, that the Beis Hamikdash was going to be built on this child's territory because he would have no part in sinas achim. This is because, from Binyamin's perspective, we are all siblings which makes us all God's children. Once we are Hashem's children, He can forgive us, just like a father can do. Kabbalistically speaking, when Hashem does forgive us, it comes from His right side, so to speak. This is why we say, "For Your right hand is stretched out to receive penitents" (Tefillas V'hu Rachum recited on most Mondays and Thursdays).
There are two aspects that emerge from Binyamin's perspective. 1) We are God's children. 2) God accepts our repentance with His right hand, as it were. This explains Ya'akov's intention when he named his youngest child, "Binyamin." As Rashi said, this name consists of two words, "Ben Yamin." These two words contain the two perspectives of Binyamin. 1) We are God's children; "Ben." 2) God will accept our repentance with His right hand; "yamin."
Binyamin represents unity. We said earlier that unity is a prerequisite for the Shechina. This will lead us to a deeper understanding of one of the components of the Mishkan.
Tachash skins were used as the roofing of the Mishkan. The Tachash was an animal which was created by Hashem in the days of Moshe for the purpose of using its skins for the Mishkan. It had many colors on its skin. It is for this reason that Onkelos translates "tachash" as "Sasgona." The word "Sasgona" can be split into two parts. The first part spells "sas" (happy). The second part "gona" can be pronounced "gavna" (colors) when the vowels are rearranged. Together this means that this animal was happy and proud of her many colors (Rashi, Parshas Terumah, 25:5; Shabbos, chap. 2, "Bameh Madlikin", pg. 28a).
The Shvilei Pinchas says that these Tachash skins served the same purpose as did the Beis Hamikdash which sat on Binyamin's territory. When the Jews would see the Beis Hamikdash sitting on Binyamin's territory, it reminded them that the Shechina only rests on us in the merit of unity which was demonstrated by Binyamin who would not participate in the sinas achim by mechiras Yosef.
However, when the Jews were in the desert and there was no permanent territory of Binyamin, the Tachash skins reminded the Jews of the importance of unity. The different colors of the Tachash represented the different approaches of the different tribes of Israel. All their approaches were halachically bonafied, yet, they were different. As we mentioned above, one tribe focused on malchus, another on Torah, and another on tzadaka. The Tachash was happy that each tribe expressed its individuality in the service of God.
But, there was another reason for the Tachash's joy. All its colors blended in together forming a tapestry of psychedelic proportions. The beauty of a painting is how all the different colors work together! When the different streams of Jews work together, it is cause for tremendous joy and celebration.
This is what the Nesiim represented. Who were these men? Rashi (Naso, 7:2) cites the Sifri that says that they were the police officers who were appointed by Pharaoh to ensure that the rest of the Jews filled their quota of bricks per day. Pharaoh expected the Jewish officers to whip the other Jews to work harder and faster. If the quota of bricks was not met, Egyptian officers would whip and club the Jewish officers for not doing their job properly.
However, the Jewish officers would not smite their fellow Jews. Naturally, the quota of bricks was not filled which resulted in the Jewish officers taking a beating at the hands of the Egyptian officers (See Parshas Shemos, 5:14). These Jewish officers later became the Nesiim.
These leaders accomplished a lot. We suffered terrible Egyptian slavery because of sinas chinam and sinas achim. The sinas achim which existed by the selling of Yosef triggered events which led to terrible Egyptian bondage (See Shabbos, chap. 1, "Yetziyos Hashabbos", pg. 10b, Rava bar Machsiya quoting Rav Chama bar Guria in the name of Rav. See Tosafos there, divrei hamaschil "Nisgalgel"). Some Jews held on to this hatred and became informers to the Egyptian authorities against their fellow Jews (Rashi Parshas Shemos, 2:14, based on Shemos Rabba, 1:30, Rebbi Yehuda bar Rebbi Shalom in the name of Rebbi Chanina Hagadol quoting Rebbi Alexandari).
However, when the Jewish police officers withheld from beating their fellow Jews, they demonstrated ahavas chinam which was the tikkun for the sinas chinam. In their merits we deserved to leave Egyptian persecution.
This explains why these Jewish police officers became the Nesiim and led the Jewish people in the service of korbanos. The korbanos were supposed to make peace between the Jewish people and Hashem (See Rashi, Parshas Yisro, 20:22). However, peace between the people and God is dependant on peace between the people themselves.
The Nesiim were our heroes and role models. They were chosen to inaugurate the Altar to serve as a lesson that first we must be more like the Nesiim, filled with ahavas chinam. Then, there will also be peace between ourselves and God.
The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is why the Torah repeats the korban of each Nasi individually. Since these men respected other Jews by never entertaining the thought of hurting another Jew, they were paid back measure for measure, and they were respected by Hashem by having their korbanos mentioned individually.
Practically speaking, let us try to fulfil the mitzvah of V'ahavta L'reyacha Kamocha (Parshas Kedoshim, 19:18) a little bit more by viewing each person through the lenses of Binyamin and the Nesiim which means through the lenses of tolerance, respect, appreciation, and love.
So, may we brothers and sisters be blessed with holy eyes to view each and every person as a prince or princess in his own right, and subsequently treat each person with upmost honor and respect by recognizing that each person has his own unique thoughts, emotions, and experiences. As a result, we will deserve to be considered one big unified family of God's children, whose sins will be forgiven.
Good Shabbos, Warmest wishes, Aba Wagensberg