Parashat Naso

Princely Gifts

The princes' gifts to the Tabernacle illustrate important principles of leadership and methods of balancing personal and communal needs.

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Provided by the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel, a summer seminar in Israel that aims to create a multi-denominational cadre of young Jewish leaders.

This week's parashah continues to discuss the arrangements for the trek the Jewish nation is about to make through the desert to the Land of Israel. The Levites, who are responsible for transporting the Tabernacle, are counted, and their work-load is apportioned among them. This is followed by a number of laws concerning ritual purity, aimed at keeping the encampment pure, and a number of other laws whose placement here seems odd and which I will not talk about.

Then, towards the end of the parashah, after everything seems to have been arranged, and the nation should be ready to start to make its way to the promised land, with the Tabernacle in place at the center of the camp and all the tribes arranged appropriately around it as they travel through the desert, the nesi'im, the leaders of the twelve tribes, suddenly approach Moses.

They bring him a gift--"six covered wagons and twelve cattle, a wagon for every two leaders and an ox for each one, and they brought them near to the Tabernacle." Moses is unsure what to do with this voluntary gift, until God tells him: "Take these from them, that they may be for the work of the Tent of Meeting, and give them to the Levites, each man according to his work-load." Moses then apportioned the wagons and oxen among the Levites, according to the amount of material from the Tabernacle that they had to transport.

A Voluntary Gift

This voluntary, spontaneous gift to the Levites on the part of the heads of the tribes contains many interesting messages. First of all, we have the theme of the Torah's 'leaving space.' After dozens, no, hundreds, of verses relating to the way the Tabernacle should be designed, constructed and transported, there was still room left for improvement--still room for a new, innovative technological (!) way to make the work of transporting the parts of the Tabernacle easier and more efficient.

This is not the only occasion on which the Torah seems to leave space in this way for suggestions, improvements, challenges, or changes to the orders handed down by God to the people through Moses. In an interesting parallel, Rashi points out that the heads of the twelve tribes, as leaders, also 'left space' for the Jewish people, the people they were leading, in which to act. Rashi explains that all through the process of donating materials for the Tabernacle--the silver, gold, fabrics, and other materials needed--the nesi'im are not mentioned. This is because they did not, as nesi'im, bring any specific donations. Instead, Rashi tells us, they held back, leaving room for the people to act first and bring what they could, thinking that they, the leaders, would fill in later whatever was missing.

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Rabbi Shimon Felix

Rabbi Shimon Felix is the Israel Director of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. He lives with his family in Jerusalem, and has taught in a wide variety of educational frameworks in Israel and abroad.