- Nasso 101
First & Last
June 2008, Contributed by
Asher ben Shimon
Torah Portions Archive
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Torah Portions Archive
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