These are exciting times for the Jewish people. Almost a year has passed, and it is again Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the month in which they left Egypt. So much has happened in such a short time. First there was walking through the Reed Sea on dry land; was that cool! Then, just six weeks later, they stood at Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments. Forty days later came the sin of the golden calf, but just 80 days after that they received the second set of Tablets, a sure sign that Hashem had forgiven them and had renewed His relationship with them. The day after Moshe came down from Mount Sinai with the second set of tablets, he relayed Hashem’s commandment to build the Tabernacle. The people were elated with the idea of Hashem dwelling among them, and, within two days, had donated the raw materials necessary to construct the components of the modular, portable Holy Temple, the Mishkan. Betzalel got to work right away, and on the 25th day of Kislev (corresponding to the first day of Chanukah) the work was complete, and all was ready to go.
Yet no instructions had been given to begin using it. Hashem was waiting for the month of Nissan, the month in which Yitzchak our forefather- the icon of עבודה – service to Hashem – was born. Because the Mishkan would be the locus of service to Hashem, it would be appropriate to construct it during the month of Nissan.
The Jewish people were waiting with bated breath while, for the past seven days, Moshe had practiced erecting and dismantling the Mishkan, but now the moment had finally arrived: it was Rosh Chodesh Nissan, and the Mishkan was up and ready for use.
There is a very important concept in Torah. How a holy thing begins will have an effect on that item’s future holiness. It is like two lines that need to be parallel. If they are even a little off in the very beginning, they will immediately, irrevocably diverge.
The first sacrifices thus brought on the altar of the Mishkan had to be of the purest of intentions and holiness. Who would merit bringing the first sacrifices on the holy altar constructed by Betzalel who knew the recipes Hashem had used to create the world?
The individual tribal leaders, who had been the foremen in Egypt and who, when Pharaoh stopped giving straw for the bricks took the beating for the Jewish people who could no longer produce the necessary quota, got the job. These leaders, were dedicated to the members of their tribe, heart and soul, and were of the purest character, were the perfect candidates to bring the first sacrifices on the new altar.
But who would be the first of the first? The Midrash explains that Nachshon ben Aminadav, who had been the first person to enter the Reed Sea causing it to split, would be the first here also. For the next eleven days, in the order in which they travelled, each leader brought his sacrifice, to initiate the use of the holy altar.
The Torah’s term to describe the inaugural sacrifices that initiated service on the altar is חנוכת המזבח – the education of the altar, a rather curious term. We generally understand education as training, making someone proficient in a task or profession that he needs to learn. How would that notion apply to the inanimate altar?
We learn from this that the true meaning of חנוך – what we call “education”- to be preparation. The altar’s “education” was really the altar’s preparation for its mission. The sacrifices of these 12 holy people, brought with the purest of intentions, prepared the altar for its purpose by setting the bar to the highest standard, thus sanctifying and elevating all future sacrifices.
The same concept is true in the חנוך – education of our children. Our goal is to prepare them for their unique mission in life as an individual Jewish person and as an important member of the Jewish nation. To this end, we need to provide them the information and skills that they need to accomplish that mission. Once again, where we initially set the standard will affect everything they do for the rest of their lives.
With 176 verses, Naso is the Torah’s longest portion. The Torah recounts for us, the sacrifices of the leaders of each of the 12 tribes. Since it took 6 verses to describe the sacrifice, an extra 72 verses were added to a normal sized portion of around 100 verses.
Here is how the Torah describes the sacrifice of Nachshon ben Aminadav, the leader of the tribe of Yehuda (Numbers 7:12-17):
ספר במדבר פרק ז
יב) וַיְהִי הַמַּקְרִיב בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן אֶת קָרְבָּנוֹ נַחְשׁוֹן בֶּן עַמִּינָדָב לְמַטֵּה יְהוּדָה
יג) וְקָרְבָּנוֹ קַעֲרַת כֶּסֶף אַחַת שְׁלשִׁים וּמֵאָה מִשְׁקָלָהּ מִזְרָק אֶחָד כֶּסֶף שִׁבְעִים שֶׁקֶל בְּשֶׁקֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ שְׁנֵיהֶם מְלֵאִים סֹלֶת בְּלוּלָה בַשֶּׁמֶן לְמִנְחָה
יד) כַּף אַחַת עֲשָׂרָה זָהָב מְלֵאָה קְטֹרֶת
טו) פַּר אֶחָד בֶּן בָּקָר אַיִל אֶחָד כֶּבֶשׂ אֶחָד בֶּן שְׁנָתוֹ לְעֹלָה
טז) שְׂעִיר עִזִּים אֶחָד לְחַטָּאת
יז) וּלְזֶבַח הַשְּׁלָמִים בָּקָר שְׁנַיִם אֵילִם חֲמִשָּׁה עַתּוּדִים חֲמִשָּׁה כְּבָשִׂים בְּנֵי שָׁנָה חֲמִשָּׁה זֶה קָרְבַּן נַחְשׁוֹן בֶּן עַמִּינָדָב
12) The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nachshon ben Aminadav, of the tribe of Judah.
13) His offering was one silver bowl, weighing 130 shekels, and one silver basin of 70 shekels in the sacred shekel: both of them filled with fine flour mixed with oil for a meal-offering.
14) One gold ladle of ten shekels filled with incense.
15) One young bull, one ram, one sheep in its first year for a burnt offering.
16) One he-goat for a sin-offering.
17) And for a feast peace offering, two cattle, five rams, five he-goats, fives sheep in their first year. This is the offering of Nachshon ben Aminadav.
I need not describe the sacrifices of the remaining 11 tribes, because they were exactly the same as Nachshon’s. Each tribe brought the same items for their sacrifice to prepare the altar. Nesanel ben Tzuar, the leader of the tribe of Yissachar, suggested that instead of each leader trying to outdo the other by bringing something different, they should each bring the identical items, which would eliminate any strife or jealousy among them. This idea found great favor in Hashem’s eyes, and therefore He in detail spelled out the sacrifice of each leader, even though it was identical to the others.
There is more to this than meets the eye. Even though outwardly the sacrifices looked identical, in reality they were very different. Indeed, no two were in any way similar. How is that? The verse says (Samuel 1, 16:7):
ספר שמואל א פרק טז
דָם כִּי הָאָדָם יִרְאֶה לַעֵינַיִם וַידֹוָד יִרְאֶה לַלֵּבָב
(7) For a man judges by what he sees with his eyes, but Hashem judges based on what He sees in a person’s heart.
From when Yaakov’s 12 sons received their blessings at the end of Yaakov’s life, they understood their unique mission as an integral part of the Jewish nation. In blessing each of his sons, Yaakov identified each son’s essential quality and charged him to perfect that trait and to use it in service of the community in harmony with the special traits of his brothers. This concept was underscored by the position that they took as they carried Yaakov’s body to its final resting place in Israel. Yaakov arranged them in a specific configuration around his bed, indicating to each son his unique position in the nation. These positions were renewed when Hashem instructed each tribe where to set up its camp as they took their position around the Tabernacle in the wilderness.
The mission and goal of each tribe was the essence and focus of their service to Hashem, and it was with these thoughts and ideas that each leader brought his sacrifice to prepare the altar. He was able to dedicate each item with a deep meaning and thought, which expressed his tribe’s unique mission and purpose. After all twelve tribes had brought their sacrifices, the complete array of thoughts and intentions of service to Hashem had been brought on the altar. With this, the altar became the appropriate platform for every thought and feeling that any person would have for all time. All of this was accomplished with peace and harmony as they all brought the same items for their sacrifices. This pleased Hashem greatly, and to teach us how special this was, Hashem recorded the sacrifice of each leader, since, in His eyes, it was a completely unique sacrifice.
Rashi quotes the commentary of Rabbi Moshe HaDarshan who explains to what each of the items brought corresponded.
קַעֲרַת כֶּסֶף אַחַת שְׁלשִׁים וּמֵאָה מִשְׁקָלָהּ – The numeric value of the two words קערת כסף – a silver bowl, add up to 930. This is the number of years that Adam lived. Its weight, 130 shekels, corresponds Adam’s age of when he fathered Seth.
מִזְרָק אֶחָד כֶּסֶף שִׁבְעִים שֶׁקֶל – The numeric value of the words מזרק אחד כסף one silver basin, is 520. The 500 corresponds to how old Noach was when he had his first son, and the 20 corresponds to the decree of the flood, which preceded Noach’s first child by 20 years. It’s weight of 70 shekels corresponds to the 70 nations that came from his sons.
כַּף אַחַת עֲשָׂרָה זָהָב מְלֵאָה קְטֹרֶת – One golden ladle – corresponding to the Torah that was given from Hashem’s hand , weighing 10 golden pieces corresponding to the 10 commandments, filled with incense. – the numeric value of קטרת is 613 corresponding to the 613 commandments in the Torah.
טו) פַּר אֶחָד בֶּן בָּקָר One young bull corresponds to Avraham our forefather who brought a bull as a sacrifice.
אַיִל אֶחָד- One ram corresponds to Yitzchak who was replaced by a ram after the binding.
כֶּבֶשׂ אֶחָד בֶּן שְׁנָתוֹ לְעֹלָה – One sheep corresponding to Yaakov who tended the sheep of Laban.
שְׂעִיר עִזִּים אֶחָד לְחַטָּאת – One he goat for a sin offering – to atone for the sale of Joseph when the brothers slaughtered a he goat to use its blood to fool Yaakov.
וּלְזֶבַח הַשְּׁלָמִים בָּקָר שְׁנַיִם – For a peace offering, two cattle – these correspond to Moshe and Aharon who brought peace between Hashem and the Jewish nation.
אֵילִם חֲמִשָּׁה – 5 rams
עַתּוּדִים חֲמִשָּׁה – 5 he goats
כְּבָשִׂים בְּנֵי שָׁנָה חֲמִשָּׁה – 5 sheep
The three different types of animals correspond to the three sections of Jewish nation – the Cohens, the Levites, and the Israelites. They also correspond to the three sections of the Written Torah, the תורה נביאים וכתובים – The Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings.
The three groups of 5 correspond to the 5 books of the Torah, and the 5 commandments that were on each of the two tablets.
When looking at this list of what the various components of the sacrifice corresponded to, there seems to be a common thread weaving through them. They all refer to the beginning of something momentous. The first man, Adam, and his first son, Seth from whom the rest of the world came. Noah, who after the flood, which destroyed all of humanity, began the world anew with the 70 nations who spread out and populated it. Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, the three pillars of the Jewish nation and he creator of three different pathways of service to Hashem. The Torah with the Ten Commandments and the 613 commandments, which represent the beginning of a new way of life and the foundations for a moral and ethical way of life, manifest in the three components of the Jewish people. All that there was until then had been built on the beginnings referred to above. It would now be their task to start the new construction, so to speak, on the foundations that had been laid by those before them.
Upon this foundation the leaders of the 12 tribes added the thoughts and meanings relevant to their unique mission and role in the Jewish nation. In this way, the 12 “identical” sacrifices were all completely different despite their outward appearance.
By essentially repeating the same thing 11 times, the Torah is teaching us a profound message. In our service to Hashem, we don’t have to look different or do outlandish things to distinguish our service to Hashem from the service of others. Hashem knows what is in our hearts, and our thoughts and feelings are what make our service special to Him. Just like the leaders of the tribes who were content to bring seemingly the same sacrifice yet distinguish it with their thoughts and intentions, so, too, we should do the same.
When observing many people performing a mitzvah in the same way, one may tend to think of a production line, everyone going through the same motions devoid of any individuality. Indeed, the exact opposite is true. Each person performs the seemingly identical act from a unique standpoint, with different obstacles and challenges. Only Hashem knows what went into the ultimate fulfillment of that mitzvah by each person, and to Him that is what is so precious about our service to Him.
That we can all do the mitzvot superficially in the same way also adds a strong component of unity, as it did with the leaders of the tribes, and this is also very precious to Hashem. When we are at peace with each other, Hashem is most pleased with us.
These are important lessons that we can each apply to our personal service to Hashem.