Israel Forever

For the week ending 7 June 2003 / 7 Sivan 5763

All the Same.. and Yet?

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

The longest parsha in the entire Torah is the one which will be read this Shabbat in Eretz Yisrael. (Outside of Eretz Yisrael, where this day is celebrated as the second day of Shavuot, it will be read only next week in order to allow for the special Festival reading on this day.)

It has 176 passages, which corresponds to the number of passages in the longest psalm in Tehillim (119) and the number of pages in the longest volume of the Talmud (Bava Batra).

Of these 176 passages 77 are dedicated to describing the gifts made by the heads of each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel to the establishment of the Mishkan sanctuary. Even a cursory reading of this section reveals that each head offered exactly the same as every other one. One wonders why the Torah, whose every letter and even every crown of a letter has significance, went to the trouble of writing the same details twelve times, rather than just reporting that the other eleven gave the exact same gift as the first one.

In his commentary, Ramban offers two insights regarding this question, which we can apply to our situation in Israel.

One is that Hashem wished to pay equal tribute to each head of a tribe for his gift. Had the gift of only the first been spelled out in detail and the others appeared only with ditto marks the impression could mistakenly be gained that theirs were of lesser importance. If this lesson could be learned by those who fail to appreciate the contribution which the yeshivot and kolelim make to the security of the nation through their Torah study there would be none of the friction which results from the delegitimization of Torah students by anti-religious elements as shirkers of responsibility.

The second insight is that although many leaders may be offering the same gift each of them is capable of doing so with a different intention according to his particular responsibility. If the tribe of Yehuda was the source of kings then all the gifts made by the head of this tribe symbolized a service to Hashem, which would grant that tribe the ability to provide leadership. So too in the case of the tribes of Yissachar and Zevulun who formed a pacesetting partnership in which the former dedicated itself to the study of Torah while the latter supported it financially. The gifts, which the head of these tribes gave, were identical but each sought to gain from this contribution to the Mishkan the power to fulfill its particular destiny.

How wonderful it would be if the leaders of today could also grasp the importance and uniqueness of the contribution made by every "tribe" in our multifaceted society which all combine to ensure the security and prosperity of Israel forever.

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