Parshat Naso – Unique or Important?
This week’s parsha brings us to the major event of the inauguration of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle in the desert. Seeing as all of the Israelites’ ritual lives as they traveled in the desert revolved around the Mishkan and the daily offerings brought there, the inauguration was a major event. In addition to the prescribed gifts that the Nasiim (the leaders of the twelve tribes) each contributed, each Nasi also offered individual voluntary gifts. The Torah goes on to describe each individual Nasi presenting their gift to Moses and Aaron at the Mishkan. What is remarkable is that as the Torah describes each Nasi’s gift, it quickly becomes apparent that each is exactly the same as the last: “A silver bowl weighing 130 shekels, a silver sprinkling basin weighing 70 shekels, both mixed with flour and olive oil for a meal offering, a gold spoon weighing 10 shekels filled with incense,” and several animals for specific sacrifices. Curiously, the parsha painstakingly relates the detailed gift lists of every single Nasi, even though each is identical. We know not one word in the Torah is superfluous, so what is this lengthy repetition meant to teach us?
According to Rabbi Shalom Hammer (author of The Family Parsha Book), “This teaches us that everything we do for Hashem is important even if it is not unique.”
In our society, we place a lot of emphasis on what each of us can uniquely contribute to the world, what makes us individually special. This notion can take on a life of its own, with endless Buzzfeed quizzes revealing which mythical creature or Harry Potter character we are “most like.” Our uniqueness is important, but more important are our actions and how they impact our community. One could create something that is one-of-a-kind, but that is not more valuable than someone who dedicates their creative energies to giving back to their community or to the world, even if someone else came up with original idea of how they’re doing it. Parshat Naso teaches us that our actions and contributions are of the highest value if they are given from the heart with the intention of service to God and one another. If each Nasi had spent his time coming up with the “perfect” gift to the Mishkan to express their uniqueness, the process would have become an exercise in ego that would have diminished the holiness of the occasion.
At camp, we ask everyone to bring their best selves to create a K’lal Yisrael community way up in the “desert” of New Hampshire. We prize the uniqueness of every single camper and what they have to offer. But we also require an identical packing list from everyone, because what we bring to the community comes from within each of us as we come together each summer, not from any material objects. Instead of spending the weeks before camp packing the most “unique” stuff to impress their bunkmates (which they’ll probably just lose anyway), campers should look forward to being their best selves and having fun as part of the Yavneh community. That’s the greatest gift that can be given.
Questions for the Shabbat Table:
- When you think of the people you most look up to, do you think of how unique they are, or do you think of how important they are? Why do you think that is?
- How can you bring your most important “self” to camp this summer?