In the Torah section of Naso, we read a rather perplexing narrative concerning a special presentation offered by the nesi’im (leaders) of each of the twelve shvatim (tribes) making up the nation of Israel to G-d on the occasion of the dedication of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) during their sojourn in the desert.
“It was on the day that Moses finished erecting the Tabernacle that he anointed it, sanctified it and all its utensils, and the alter and all its utensils…The leaders of Israel…brought offerings…They brought their offering before G-d, six covered wagons and twelve oxen.” (Bamidbar 7:1-3). “Then the leaders brought forwards offerings for the dedication of the alter on the day it was anointed…G-d said to Moses, ‘One leader each day…shall bring their offering for the dedication of the alter. The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nachshon son of Aminadav, of the tribe of Judah. His offering was: one silver bowl, its weight a hundred and thirty [shekels], and one silver basin of seventy shekels in the sacred shekel, both of them filled with fine flour mixed with oil for a meal offering. One golden ladle of ten [shekels] filled with incense. One young bull, one ram, one sheep in its first year for a burnt offering. One he-goat for a sin offering. And for a peace offering, two cattle, five rams, five he-goats, five sheep in their first year” (Bamidbar 7:10-17). Then, for the next 63 verses, the Torah proceeds to enumerate for each and every leader of his shevet (tribe) the offerings that he brought, each and every one identical to the other, followed by a sum total of all the offerings.
It would seem on the surface that this is a rather unnecessary repetition of the same exact facts over and over. We could simply have been told on which day each leader brought his offering and, after enumerating the days, be told that each one brought the same thing, thereby avoiding the redundancy. In fact, this matter is pondered by various early biblical exegetes.
In his commentary on the above passages, Ramban, a.k.a. Nahmanides, explains, based on various midrashim of our Sages, that, while each of the offerings may have been brought at the same period of time and each of the offerings may have been identical in number and form, the intention behind each leader’s action of offering these particular things was actually different. Each leader came up with the idea of bringing each of the components of his offering for a different reason. Consequently, it was not just an agreed form of offering among all the leaders to be divided among them, but a conscious and unique thought process on the part of each and every leader, and, therefore, warranted a separate delineation for each and every leader. This is, in fact, supported by the very preface to these offerings, mentioned above, where we are told of the wagons and oxen that all of the leaders brought together. In this preface, the Torah does not enumerate, as it does later on, that one leader brought an ox and another leader brought an ox and so forth. They are all bunched together. This is because this was a joint offering by all the leaders with one joint intent, unlike the offering that each leader presented afterwards.
Throughout our lives, we often have situations where more than one individual to whom we are beholden does for us something that gladdens our hearts. If all of these individuals got together and agreed jointly to do this, we are warranted to give a general show of appreciation to all as one group. However, when each of the individuals acted out of an independent motive, then each one’s actions are special and each deserves recognition in its own right. Imagine if each one of your children would come home with tests on four different subjects. Even if all four subjects were identical for each child and even if all the grades for each of the tests were identical, it would be incumbent upon you to express your excitement to each child separately and enunciate your gladness over each grade separately. This is the lesson that we learn in this seemingly redundant passage of the Torah. When each one’s motive was independent of the other, then the actions of each leader were special and warranted separate recognition.
May we all have the proper and positive motives independent of what anyone else may think or desire, and may we all receive the commensurate reward for our good deeds.