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Torah Sparks

May 22, 2010 - 9 Sivan 5770

Annual (Num. 4:21-7:89): Etz Hayim p. 791; Hertz p. 586
Triennial (Num. 7:1-7:89): Etz Hayim p. 805; Hertz p. 596
Haftarah (Judges 13:2-25): Etz Hayim p. 813; Hertz p. 602

Torah Portion Summary

God instructs Moses to take a census of the remaining Levitical houses, the Gershonites and the Merarites. The numbers of all the Levitical houses are reported and the duties of the latter two are described.

People who have contracted ritual impurity from specific sources must be placed outside the camp. A person who has wronged another by theft must confess his or her sin, make restitution and add a 20 percent fine, and bring an offering to complete his or her atonement. When a man suspects his wife of adultery but has no evidence, he may bring her to a priest, along with a grain offering. The priest will have the woman drink the “water of bitterness.” If the woman is guilty, she will experience unpleasant physical effects when she drinks the water, but if she is innocent she will pass this trial unharmed.

God tells Moses that a person may make a vow to become a nazir, abstaining from wine and grape products, from cutting his hair, and from any contact with the dead. If a nazir is accidentally contaminated by a person suddenly dying near him, he must undergo the seven-day purification ritual, bring a penalty offering, and begin counting his term as a nazir again from the beginning. At the conclusion of the term of the nazir's vow, he or she undergoes a completion ritual.

God tells Moses to instruct Aaron and his sons how to perform the priestly blessing.

On the day that Moses completes setting up the Tabernacle and anointing and consecrating it and its furnishings, the chiefs of the tribes bring their offerings. Although they brought identical offerings, one each day for 12 days, the gift of each chief is described individually.

1. Act Now, Before It's Too Late

The chieftains of Israel, the heads of ancestral houses, namely, the chieftains of the tribes, those who were in charge of enrollment, drew near and brought their offering before the Lord: six draught carts and twelve oxen, a cart for every two chieftains and an ox for each one. (Numbers 7:2-3)

  1. Why was it that the princes were quick to come along and offer before everybody else, while in the case of the construction of the Tabernacle they were lax and only brought their contribution of onyx stones to be set after everyone else? This was because when Moses proclaimed: “Everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them - gifts for the Lord” (Exodus 35:5) he did not address the princes. It displeased them because he did not make a separate and special appeal to them. They said: Let the people bring whatever they like; what is lacking we shall provide. All Israel rejoiced in the construction of the Tabernacle and brought their contributions joyfully and eagerly... In the space of two mornings they brought all the offerings that were required... Two days later the princes sought to bring their offerings but could not since Moses had already commanded: “Let no man or woman make further effort toward gifts for the sanctuary!” (36:6) Then the princes were distressed because it had not been granted them to contribute to the Tabernacle. They said: Since it was not granted to us to contribute to the Tabernacle we shall contribute to the garments of the high priest, as it is said “And the chieftains brought lapis lazuli [elsewhere - onyx] stones” (35:29) [Chieftains, n'si'im, is written here without a yud.] Said the Holy Blessed One: My children who displayed eagerness, let it be recorded that they brought “more than enough” (36:7); whereas the princes, let there be omitted one letter from their name on account of their remissness. Therefore, as soon as the Tabernacle was finished, they brought with alacrity an offering at the first opportunity that presented itself. (Bamidbar Rabbah 12:16)
  2. The princes regarded the call for all the people to contribute as an insult to their lofty station. They looked forward to the people not being able to provide the necessary amount of offerings and they would then be able to restore their wounded pride by contributing the difference. But the generosity of the people upset their calculations, leaving them only the opportunity of contributing the onyx stones and other articles required for the vestments of the high priest. Instead of acting as part of the people and contributing along with everyone else, they put themselves above the people and set themselves apart from the national endeavor. This undesirable trait of theirs is alluded to in the defective spelling of their princely title. At the moment they were not worthy of the title “princes of the people.” (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, 1808-1888, Germany)
  3. The zealous do mitzvot early. (Talmud Yoma 28b)

Sparks for Discussion

According to our commentators, the chieftains hurried to bring their offerings because they had learned their lesson. Why do you think they waited to bring contributions for building the Mishkan? What about today? Why do people delay when asked to contribute money or time to causes they support? Have you ever been told you were too late to participate in something important? Did you get a second chance? Did the experience change your behavior?

2. All Together Now

The chieftains also brought the dedication offering for the altar upon its being anointed. As the chieftains were presenting their offerings before the altar, the Lord said to Moses: Let them present their offerings for the dedication of the altar, one chieftain each day. (Numbers 7:10-11)

  1. Now Scripture mentions the offerings of each of the princes individually and afterwards it includes them all in a general statement, saying, “This was the dedication offering for the altar from the chieftains of Israel upon its being anointed: silver bowls, 12...” (7:84) ...Now all the princes brought this offering on the same day, because they all agreed to it simultaneously. But since it was impossible that one of them should not precede the others He honored those who came first in [the position of] the standards to bring their offerings on the earlier days. He wanted, however, to mention them all by name and the details of their offerings, and to cite the day of each one, rather than honoring the first one by saying, “The one who presented his offering on the first day was Nahshon son of Amminadab” and then saying “and so did each of the princes offer on his day,” for that would have been a diminution of the honor of the others. (Ramban (Rabbi Moses ben Nachman), 1194-1270, Spain)
  2. But God gave orders for the princes that each tribe represented by its prince was to have a separate day allotted to it for bringing its offering. For each tribe represented a special kind of social activity, and its being purified and being penetrated with the spirit of the Torah and using its activities in making the demands of the Torah a reality, formed a completely essential specialized contribution for accomplishing the common mission of the nation. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, 1808-1888, Germany)
  3. Seeing that the offerings of the princes were all identical and in the same amount, why should the Torah mention the offerings of each prince separately? Because each of them brought his offering of his own accord, not in order to ape the others, but solely of his own free will. (Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Przysucha, 1765-1827, Poland)
  4. During the twelve days of the dedication of the Tabernacle the heads of the twelve tribes each brought an offering. Although the offerings of the twelve leaders were the same, the Torah repeats them over and over with all of their details. The Ralbag [Rabbi Levi ben Gershon, 1288-1344, France] comments that this is to teach us the lesson that one person should not try to outdo another in order to boast or to feel above him. Therefore the Torah elaborates on how each one brought the same thing. (Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, Growth Through Torah, p. 317)
  5. Rabbi Shimon taught: Be careful when you recite the Sh'ma and the Amidah. When reciting the Amidah do not make your prayer a prescribed routine but a plea for mercy and grace before God. (Pirkei Avot 2:18)
  6. Prayer should always be a combination of set words and spontaneous expression. We utilize the magnificent texts that others have written and we add to them, through variations and interpretations and whatever words we wish to add in order to bring our feelings to the fore. (Rabbi Reuven Hammer, Entering Jewish Prayer, p. 12)

Sparks for Discussion

Why do you think the Torah repeats the same paragraph twelve times? Is it meant to teach us that different people can perform the same actions for very different reasons?

Why do we pray the way we do? Why do we recite prayers fixed more than 1,000 years ago, day after day, week after week? How can we express what is truly in our hearts with other people's words? Have you ever tried to compose your own prayers? Were you successful? What can the fixed prayers of the siddur teach us? How do they help us focus on what it means to pray? What do you think would happen if every congregation wrote its own prayers?

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