When each tribe brought the same offering

Each of the Tribes was unique, and even though each brought the identical offering, each one’s offering was unique.

Daniel Pinner ,

Model of Tabernacle
Model of Tabernacle
Shilo archives

Dedicated to the memory of my father Ze’ev (Warren) Pinner a”h, who passed away three years ago this past Shabbat, 11th Sivan 5778 (25th May 2018).

Of the 176 verses of Parashat Nasso (the longest parashah in the Chumash), 72 (most of Chapter 7) recount the offerings which the twelve Tribal leaders brought to the Mishkan (the Tabernacle) when Moshe finished erecting it and sanctifying its accoutrements:

“The one who offered his offering on the first day was Nachshon son of Aminadav, of the Tribe of Judah. And his offering was one silver bowl, its weight one-hundred-and-thirty [shekels]; one silver basin of 70 shekels of the Holy Shekels – both of these full of fine flour mixed with oil for a meal-offering; one golden spoon of ten [shekels], full of incense; one young bull; one ram; one he-lamb in its first year, as a burnt-offering; one he-goat as a sin-offering; and for the peace-offering two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, five he-lambs in their first year. This is the offering of Nachshon son of Aminadav” (Numbers 7:12-17).

Then the Torah continues: “On the second day, Netanel son of Tzu’ar, the Prince of Issachar, offered. He offered his offering: one silver bowl…”, and then repeats precisely the identical offerings which Nachshon had brought the previous day.

And again: “On the third day, the prince of the sons of Zevulun, Eliav son of Cheilon: His offering was one silver bowl…”, again repeating word-for-word the previous two paragraphs.

And so on for all the subsequent days. Twelve times the Torah repeats the identical offerings which the twelve Tribal leaders brought to the Mishkan.

The obvious question arises: Why does the Torah, which is usually so sparing with its words, which does not write even a single superfluous letter, repeat itself over and over again? Why not record what Nachshon son of Aminadav offered on the first day, and then write: “And on the second day the Prince of Issachar Netanel son of Tzu’ar brought the same offering, on the third day the Prince of Zevulun Eliav son of Cheilon brought the same offering...and on the twelfth day the Prince of Naftali, Achira son of Einan brought the same offering”?

The Midrash explains:

Even though each Tribe offered the identical offering, they each had their own unique interpretations of those offerings; so on the spiritual level, each Tribe actually brought different offerings.

“Our rabbis said that even though they all offered equal sacrifices, they all offered sacrifices which represented great things, and each one offered according to his understanding” (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:14).

And then the Midrash specifies Tribe-by-Tribe:

Nachshon offered a sacrifice which represented royalty: he was of the Tribe of Judah, the Tribe which Jacob had blessed to be the Tribe from which the Royal House of Israel would come (Genesis 49:10).

Hence Nachshon offered the silver bowl and the silver basin to symbolize the Kings from the House of David. King Solomon ruled over the sea, since the Queen of Sheba gave King Solomon “the naval fleet of Hiram which carried gold from Ophir” (1 Kings 10:11), and he “had a Tarshish naval fleet in the sea” (ibid. 22).

Similarly the Mashiach, the ultimate king descended from King David and his son King Solomon, will rule over the sea, as it says “he will rule from sea to sea, and from the River [Euphrates] to the ends of the world” (Psalms 72:8).

Similarly Mashiach will rule over the land, as it says “all kings will bow to him, all nations will serve him” (ibid. 11), and Nachshon symbolised this with the silver bowl, which resembles the sea which encompasses the world.

The one-hundred-and-thirty shekel weight of the bowl combines Creation with the Holy Temple: G-d gathered the waters into one place which He called “seas” (Genesis 1:10), and the gematria (numerical value) of the Hebrew word יָמִים (“seas”) is 100. The “sea” which King Solomon built in the Holy Temple for the Kohanim (Priests) to immerse in had a diameter of 10 cubits (1 Kings 7:23), giving it a circumference of [approximately] 30 cubits; thus the one-hundred-and-thirty shekel weight represents the waters of Creation and the “sea” in the Holy Temple combined.

The 70-shekel weight of the silver basin (מִזְרָק) represents the world, which is shaped like a ball that can be thrown (נִזְרָק) from hand to hand, alluding to both King Solomon and to Mashiach who ruled and will rule over the entire world.

The 70-shekel weight represents the 70 nations of the world, over whom Mashiach will ultimately rule.

The silver bowl and silver basin were both full, symbolising how the nations brought gifts to King Solomon and will bring gifts to Mashiach.

They were full of fine flour (סֹלֶת), alluding to “the precious children of Zion”, who are “likened (הַמְסֻלָּאִים) to fine gold” (Lamentations 4:2).

The fine flour was mingled with oil, alluding to the ideas that “better is a good name than good oil” (Ecclesiastes 7:1) and that “Your Name is as oil poured forth” (Song of Songs 1:3).

These vessels were made of silver, alluding to “the choicest silver is the tongue of the righteous” (Proverbs 10:20), and the golden spoon of ten shekels alludes to the ten generations from Peretz to King David (vide Ruth 4:18-22).

[It is apposite here to note that Nachshon, who gave this interpretation to his offering, was the fifth generation from Peretz.]

The golden spoon is called a כַּף (kaf), which word also means the palm of the hand, because they were all as one hand, unified, all of them completely righteous. And it was full of incense to symbolise that their deeds were as pleasant as the fragrance of the incense.

The one young bull, called here פַּר אֶחָד בֶּן־בָּקָר, recalls our father Abraham, who when the three angels in the guise of men visited him, took a בֶּן־בָּקָר, a young bull, to feed them (Genesis 18:7).

The one ram symbolises our father Isaac, who was replaced by a ram at the Akeidah (Genesis 22:12-13).

The one he-lamb in its first year symbolises our father Jacob, who separated the lambs (Genesis 30:40).

The one he-goat as a sin-offering symbolises Judah, the founder of Nachshon’s Tribe, who had brought Joseph’s coat to his father Jacob after the brothers had steeped it in goat’s blood (Genesis 37:31).

The two oxen for the peace-offering represent King David and King Solomon who founded the Royal Dynasty: the word בָּקָר (which we have translated here as “oxen”) denotes kingship, as in the verse “Butter of בָּקָ֣ר (oxen, herds) and milk of flocks” (Deuteronomy 32:14), and the Targum Onkelos and Targum Yonatan both render חֶמְאַת בָּקָר, “butter of oxen”, into Aramaic as בִּיזַת מַלְכֵיהוֹן, “the spoil of their kings”.

The peace-offerings (שְׁלָמִים) symbolise that King David and King Solomon were perfectly righteous, in their days Israel were מֻשְׁלָמִים, perfect, and in King Solomon’s time the kingdom was שְׁלֵמָה, complete.

The five rams, five he-goats, and five he-lambs, a total of fifteen, symbolise the fifteen kings of Judah (the southern Kingdom) from Rechavam (Rehoboam, son of King Solomon, in whose reign the kingdom split) until Tzidkiyahu (Zedekiah, the final king of Judah).

Then the Midrash continues (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15) with the offering of Netanel son of Tzu’ar, the Prince of Issachar, on the second day:

He interpreted the silver bowl as representing the Torah, because they loved the Torah more than all the Tribes.

The silver bowl’s 130-shekel weight symbolises a synthesis of the Torah, the Tanach in its entirety, and the Mishnah.

The Torah was given in the 26th generation (Moshe was the 26th generation after Adam and Eve); the Tanach in its entirety contains 24 Books; and the Mishnah begins with the letter mem (מֵאֵימָתַי, “from what time do we recite the Shema of the Evening?”) and concludes with the letter mem (“Hashem will grant strength to His nation, Hashem will bless His nation with peace, שָלוֹם”, quoting Psalms 29:11). The gematria of mem is 40, so the first and last letters of the Mishnah equal 80.

Alternatively, the initial letters of the Six Orders of the Mishnah add up to 80: Order Zera’im (Seeds) begins with the מ of מֵאֵימָתַי (=40); Order Mo’ed (Festivals) begins with the י of יְצִיאוֹת (=10); Order Nashim (Women) begins with the ח of חֲמֵשׁ-עֶשְׂרֵה (=8); Order Nezikin (Damages) begins with the א of אַרְבָּעָה (=1); Order Kodashim (Holy Things) begins with the כּ of כָּל (=20); and Order Tohorot (Purities) begins with the א of אֲבוֹת (=1).

So 26 represents the Torah, 24 represents the Tanach, and 80 represents the Mishnah, for a total of 130, the weight of the silver bowl.

The silver basin, too, symbolises the Torah which is compared to wine: “drink of the wine which I have poured out” (Proverbs 9:5). These are the words which Wisdom speaks, and Wisdom here means the Torah, and the Prophet Amos speaks of “those who drink from basins of wine” (Amos 6:6), using the same word (מִזְרָק) as the basin of the offering.

And the gematria of יַיִן, “wine”, is 70, corresponding to the 70 “faces of the Torah”, the 70 ways in which every word of the Torah can be expounded upon (vide Shabbat 88b et al.).

The “one silver bowl” (קַֽעֲרַת־כֶּסֶף אַחַת) symbolises תּוֹרָה אַחַת וּמִשְׁפָּט אֶחָד, the “one Torah and one judgement” (Numbers 15:16), and “one silver basin” symbolises the words of the Written Torah and the Oral Torah which were all given by One Shepherd.

The silver represents the Torah: “Hashem’s words are pure words, silver refined in a crucible” (Psalms 12:7).

The basin and bowl are both full of fine flour, symbolising the Torah and the Mishnah, both of them full (complete), neither of them contradicting the other.

The fine flour refers to the words of the Torah which are “pleasanter than gold and much fine gold, and sweeter than honey and נֹפֶת צוּפִים, the honeycomb” (Psalms 19:11): the Torah is like fine flour which floats (צָפָה) upon the, sieve (נַפָּה).

The fine flour is mingled with oil, symbolising the Torah which must be mingled with good deeds.

The golden spoon (כַּף, also meaning “hand”) symbolises the two Tablets of Stone which were given by G-d’s Hand, weighing 10 shekels corresponding to the Ten Commandments.

It was full of incense to symbolise that all 613 Mitzvot are included in the Ten Commandments.

The one young bull represents the Kohanim, the ram symbolises the Levites, and the he-lamb represents the Israelites, who all accepted the Torah at Sinai. The he-goat as a sin-offering represents the proselytes who would convert to Judaism in the future, all of whose souls were present [a convert brings a sheep, goat, or cattle as a burnt-offering].

The two oxen for the peace-offerings represent the two Torahs, the Written Torah and the Oral Torah (the Mishnah).

And the five rams, five he-goats, and five he-lambs represent three verses which speak of the Torah:

תּוֹרַת ה' תְּמִימָה מְשִׁיבַת נָפֶשׁ, עֵדוּת ה' נֶאֱמָנָה מַחְכִּימַת פֶּתִי:

“Hashem’s Torah is perfect, restoring the soul; Hashem’s testimonies are faithful, infusing wisdom into the simple”.

פִּקּוּדֵי ה' יְשָׁרִים מְשַׂמְּחֵי לֵב, מִצְוַת ה' בָּרָה מְאִירַת עֵינָיִם:

“Hashem’s commands are upright, making the heart rejoice; Hashem’s mitzvah is pure, enlightening the eyes”.

יִרְאַת ה' טְהוֹרָה עוֹמֶדֶת לָעַד, מִשְׁפְּטֵי ה' אֱמֶת צָדְקוּ יַחְדָּו:

“Fear of Hashem is pure, enduring forever; Hashem’s judgments are truth, altogether righteous” (Psalms 9:8-10).

Each of these three verse comprises two phrases, each phrase containing five words [and each 5-word phrase contains the Name of Hashem]. These three verses allude to the three peace-offerings (rams, he-goats, and he-lambs).

And the six phrases allude to the six Orders of the Mishnah.

And so the Midrash goes on, showing how each of the Twelve Tribes brought the identical offerings, each with their own completely different interpretation of what those offerings symbolised.

Eliav, the Prince of Zevulun, interpreted all these as representing his Tribe’s partnership with Issachar; Elitzur, Prince of Reuven, interpreted them as recalling how Reuven attempted to save Joseph from his brothers’ scheming; and so forth with each Tribe (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:14-14:11).

Each of the Tribes was unique, and even though each brought the identical offering, each one’s offering was unique.

Now this does not imply a free-for-all or anarchy. Each Prince of each Tribe had to bring precisely the offering that G-d commanded, no more and no less. Each Tribe had its unique understanding of these offerings, but they were not free to alter them in any way.

And so too with every Jew throughout our generations: no two Jews will have the identical understanding of Torah, of our prayers, or of anything else. Your perspective is what makes you unique.

Every one of us relates to Shabbat, to the Festivals, to Kashrut, to our prayers, to everything in Judaism, in our own unique way. But we are not free to alter Torah or Halachah in any way: we must do precisely as G-d commands, no more and no less.

But within this rigid frame, we are, every one of us, absolutely free to discover new and unique meanings to all that G-d has given and commanded us.

This is the foundation of Torah. Now go and study!