you are not another number

Friday, 2 June, 2023 - 4:43 am

We are facing the longest parasha in the Torah: Parashat Naso, which we will read tomorrow outside of Eretz Yisrael, has one hundred and seventy-six psukim in it. I don’t know if there is a connection, but it is interesting to note that that is exactly the same number of psukim as Psalm 119 – the longest one in Tehillim, also one hundred and seventy six. It is also the same number of dapim (double-sided pages) in the longest masechet (tractate) in the Gemara, masechet Bava Batra: one hundred and seventy-six. 

Seventy-one psukim repeat themselves in the parasha and describe the offerings brought by the nesi’im, the leaders of the tribes. So except for the different names of the nesi’im, the description of the offerings is completely identical. One may ask: Why? If everything is the same, the Torah could have described these offerings and sacrifices once and mention that there were twelve of each. An obvious question.

But the point is that the Torah could not have done so. Because the Torah is not a storybook or an accountant’s ledger. The Torah is a book of deeds, and therefore the offering of each and every nasi of each and every tribe has to be counted, read and described. Although the offerings and their description were identical, the sacrifices and offerings themselves were not: they were different oxen, different rams, different silver bowls etc. Secondly, and in my opinion much more significant, is that the person bringing the offerings was an entirely different person, having different intentions, different prayers, different needs, besides the fact that he was representing a different tribe. 

It is like women lighting Shabbat candles. The candles are of the same type, the blessing is the same blessing, and the intention of doing so for the honor of Shabbat is also the same in every Jewish home every Friday. But can we say that the mother lighting the candles is also the same as the others? Would anyone think that her thoughts are the same thoughts? Are the mothers’ prayers and supplications when they cover their faces identical and equal in every Jewish home? On those same candles, one prays that her son will develop a desire to learn Torah; another prays for good health for her children; a third will ask that peace will reign between all the segments of the nation, and the fourth will beg for love, brotherhood, peace and friendship in her own home. 

So too, regarding the nesi’im and their offerings. The numbers were the same, the materials the same, but the people bringing these offerings were completely different; their prayers and supplications were unique to each and every one of them. 

And why is all this important to us?

So that we always remember that we are not another product even if we came from the same manufacturer, and we are not another item even if we are part of a large system, and we are not another number even if we are part of a community or sector.

one can do the same thing as everyone else and still be unique, personal and also authentic.

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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