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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Numbers / Bamidbar - Nasso 101
First & Last
June 2008, Contributed by Asher ben Shimon
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One of the things being discussed in this week's Torah portion, Naso is the inauguration of the mizbe'ach-the altar in the Mishkan. The leader of each tribe had to bring an offering consisting of different animal sacrifices and several flower offerings placed in a silver spoon and on a silver platter as well as spices in a golden spoon. For twelve days, each day a different leader would bring his offering as representative of his entire tribe.

When describing the twelfth day the torah says: "There were twelve silver platters on the day the altar was inaugurated"

The midrash comments on that. "Wasn't there only one silver platter every day? That would mean on the 12th day there was also only one!" And it explains: The Torah mentions the TOTAL of platters brought by all the leaders on the last day to show us that it was considered as if all the leaders brought their offering on the first day and on the last day."

What does that mean? It is understood why we would want to consider everyone being the FIRST, for the first is the most important. But what is the importance of being the LAST that the Torah tells us that even the tribe that came on the first day is also considered last?

In order to understand this we first have to understand why the altar had to be inaugurated by the leaders of all the 12 tribes. It could have been done by Moshe, the leader of the entire nation or Aharon, leader of all the priests who were going to serve on the altar.

An offering, a `korban' comes to draw a person closer -`karov'- to Hashem.

In general there are 12 ways of serving Hashem. Even today we find many different ways in which the Jewish people serve their creator. Some stress joy, others seriousness etc.

The midrash explains at length the intentions of all the leaders when they brought their offering. Although they all brought identical offerings each item symbolized something else by each tribe.

The altar was meant to be used by ALL the Jews. Therefore its inauguration wasn't complete after the first day. Although it had been used, it had only been used to represent ONE way of divine service. Only after ALL the tribes had used the altar in their own way, the altar was completely inaugurated.

Now we understand the importance of the first and the last day. On the first day the altar had been used for the first time. Practically speaking it had been inaugurated. The importance of the last day is that on that day it became an altar for the ENTIRE nation.

By mentioning the 12 platters TOGETHER, the Torah tells us that each tribe was considered to have the importance of the first and the last day. This shows how all tribes are really one big family.

Being all part of 'one' made a practical difference as well, as the midrash explains us.

On Shabbat when many activities are prohibited it is not permitted to bring a personal sacrifice. Only communal offerings were brought in the temple. The twice-daily Tamid and the Musaf, specific Shabbat offering, were allowed to be sacrificed. The inaugural offering of the tribe of Efraim fell out on Shabbat. Although this was a private korban, (it had to come from the leader only), it was nevertheless permitted to be brought on that day. From the fact that all leaders had to bring identical offerings, the midrash learns that in a sense they were all connected and therefore it had the status of a communal offering. Each one represented ALL 12.

In other words, we are dealing here with two aspects. On one hand each leader had to come on a different day (as instructed by Hashem after they had suggested to all come on one day trying to show their unity) with his own intentions and his own way of serving Hashem. On the other hand we say that they were all interconnected.

The Torah tells us that right before they were starting the inauguration process, the leaders came to Moshe with their own private donation. Six wagons, each representing two tribes, carried by twelve oxen, 2 per wagon, each representing one tribe. Moshe didn't know what to do with these items till Hashem instructed him to use them to carry the mishkan when traveling.

Why did they give these wagons that had nothing to do with the inauguration or the actual service in the mishkan right before the inauguration? There must be some connection.

Why did they give one wagon per two tribes? That would mean they were not independent but part of a different tribe. That would also be concluded from looking at the twelve oxen. Although each tribe was represented by its own ox, they functioned only in connection with a second ox.

The unity of the Jewish people can be looked at in two ways. 1) We are all part of one nation, children of one father. 2) Each of us has a different position in life. The torah at one point gives a list starting from the leaders and finishing with the water carriers. One cannot live without the other. In order to have a functioning society, leaders as well as water carriers as well as all the different positions in between, are needed. The king needs the baker and the farmer to get bread on his table and the farmer needs the government officials to run the economy.

There is an advantage in both approaches.

On one hand it is of course better to say that we are one rather then saying that we can only function properly when we use the help of our brothers. That would mean that we are all SEPARATE individuals, but in need of help of another SEPERATE individual.

The advantage of the second approach is that by looking at it that way, one has to realize that he is incomplete EVEN when he realizes the greatness of his own individual potential! By looking at it as being one nation-the first approach-, we wouldn't have that. Then we would consider everyone equal without looking at each individual and his personal greatness.

The ultimate purpose is to combine the two approaches. We have to know that we are all one and because we are one we need each other. Not because we don't have the qualities of the other, but because we are interconnected.

To explain:
The Jewish people is likened to a body. Some people are considered heads, others feet. It is obvious that the head is more important (and therefore placed on a higher level) than the feet. Without feet one can live, without a head one cannot live. (Not to take away from the importance of the feet. Without them the head wouldn't be able to go anywhere)

The body is only alive when it contains a soul. The soul is a general life force. Since the head needs more of this force, it gets a stronger dose than the feet who can live with a smaller portion. In other words, the life force in the feet is the exact same life force as in the head, just of a different quantity.

The same system applies to the Jewish people. The leaders and the water carriers are all part of one whole. The leaders might have more revealed `soul' than the water carriers, but the `soul' of the water carriers is the exact same as theirs.

That is the reason why each tribe leader had to have both the general as well as the individual aspect. They were all considered to have been the first (individual) and the last (part of one nation). They had to come on separate days with their own intentions (individual) but all had to bring the same offering (part of a nation).

Before they brought their individual offerings they donated the wagons and the oxen.

In order to feel this unity even while occupied with their own individual service, they first had to show how they were all one. All the tribe leaders donated these wagons TOGETHER. At the same time there were twelve different oxen but they all needed a partner. This was to bring out how they all needed each other, not because they were lacking the qualities of the others, but because they were all one.

Unity is the vessel to receive Hashem's blessing. Let's try to be united and certainly Hashem will bless us with the biggest blessing of all, the coming of Moshiach right now!

Dedicated in honor of the birth of Mirel Ester Rosenthal


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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