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The gift of the Chieftains:Naso

Parshat Naso

Numbers 4:21 – 7:89


This week’s Torah portion, Naso is the longest weekly Torah portion.  It begins with the continuation of the details of two of the Levitical clans, Gershonites and Merarites who along with the third clan of Levites, the Kohathites, have specific duties in relationship to the moveable Tabernacle.  These groups are responsible for moving specific sections of the portable Tent of Meeting when the Children of Israel will be moving from place to place to place on their journey.   Combined with the book of Leviticus and the first two Torah portions of the book of Numbers the priesthood, both the Levites and Cohanim, now know their duties both when the Tabernacle is set-up  and in use and when it is dismantled.

And now that everyone knows his role and duties, we have the recounting of the dedication of the Tabernacle and the many gifts brought by each tribe leader. First, Moses anoints and consecrates the Tabernacle itself and its altar and its utensils.  We know from earlier passages Leviticus in Parshat Tzav and Shemini, that Moses had also consecrated Aaron and the Priesthood.

But now the chieftains are consecrated and each leader bring his own gift.  It is described as exactly the same gift. For twelve days (one for each of the leaders of the Twelve Tribes) the tribal head brings a special offering for use in the Tabernacle. Moses accepts them on behalf of God for use in the Tabernacle.  Why does the Torah describe in detail the gift of each chieftain when it is exactly the same gift: One silver bowl filled with choice flour and oil; one gold ladle with incenses; one bull ,one ram and one lamb in its first year for a burnt offering; one goat for a sin offering and a shleymim offering of two oxen five rams and five he goats and five yearling lambs!  Couldn’t the Torah have just said “Ditto” or said “and each leader of each tribe brought the same and here are the names of the chieftains”?  Why go into such detail for each tribal leader when the gift to the sanctuary is the same?

One might think that this is a statement of equality: that each leader must bring the same gift; a kind of ancient “give or get” of leadership.  If you are going to be a leader of the tribe and essentially on the Board-then you must donate a certain amount of upkeep for the organization’s well-being.  This is certainly the same as most organizations today. If you are blessed to be seen and elected a leader of a community then you are given the honor and privilege to care for its health and well-being.

But our Sages take this farther and teach that the Torah must recount and record each offering of the chieftains of the Tribes even though they appeared the same because they weren’t really the same. A person might give the same amount of charity but the intention behind the gift of each person is different.  And so while the offerings appeared equal in content, or the same amount, really the kavannah, or intention behind the gifts weren’t the same and so each tribal leader deserved to have his gift recounted fully.

Today for each of us this translates to a kind of mindfulness and intention in the way we give charity or tzedakah .  A gift or donation of $1000 dollars to one person may be a greater stretch for one individual than another.  And the intention with which you give that donation, according to our Sages, matters.  Do you give it willingly or begrudgingly?  Do you give it with the mindfulness of healing the world or see your gift or donation as a way to receive attention or recognition? Do you see your gift of charity or donation as an extension of the mission of the organization and helping to achieve its goals?

Our tradition teaches that the way we give charity and tzedakah is as important as the obligation and responsibility to give.  Give cheerfully. Give regularly. Give willingly.  Give with a prayer for healing the world.