Parshat Nasso is known as the single longest Torah portion, containing 176 verses, equal to the number of verses in the longest chapter of Psalms (chapter 119). What makes this Parsha longer than most is the painstaking repetition of the gifts given over the first 12 days of the Mishkan’s operation by the 12 tribal leaders of Israel.
On the first day the tribe of Judah was represented by their leader, Nachshon ben Aminadav. The Torah details his gift:
A silver platter weighing 130 shekel units, filled with a meal offering of flour mixed with oil.
A silver bowl weighing 70 shekel units, also filled with a meal offering of flour mixed with oil.
A golden spoon weighing 10 shekel units, filled incense for the golden altar.
One bull, one ram and one yearling lamb as burnt offerings.
One goat as a sin offering.
2 bulls, 5 rams, 5 goats and five yearling lambs were brought as peace offerings.
On the second day the next tribe brought the identical offering, but the Torah doesn’t merely state that the second offering was the same as the first. The Torah lists the full offering in detail as it did for the first. The Torah does the same thing for all 12 days, filling three columns of the scroll with these 12 paragraphs.
Commentaries discuss why this is so. They note that each offering, while physically identical, were entirely different from one another since the intent of the offering was unique to each individual. This is a powerful explanation but it leaves us wanting. Other explanations note that the value God attributed to each and every offering was equal, and therefore the Torah went to the lengths of repeating every detail of every last tribal offering. I’d like to offer a slightly different perspective on the basis of this second explanation. The angle we are looking at is not how important these offering were from God’s perspective, rather how meaningful they were from the tribal perspective. One would think that by the time they got to the eighth day Gamliel ben Pedahtzur, who was the leader of Menashe, felt like he was bringing the same old thing again. One cannot help but imagine that the excitement on the first and second days surpassed the excitement felt on subsequent days. The Torah lists every single offering in detail to show that each tribal leader approached his offering on his day as though it was entirely original and its meaning was not diminished in the slightest by the order, or the fact that many identical offerings had already come before the altar.
An expedition scaling mount Everest is undertaken with great care and copious training. Every member of the group has a goal of reaching the summit. The road is long and tedious, and fraught with peril. It is a test of nerves and stamina, along with skill and also some luck. The groups will not arrive at the summit together. Some will reach it before others, but that does not diminish the value of the person reaching the summit a few minutes later. It is a personal challenge, and being first is not at all part of the goal. The objective is reaching the summit. Period.
Mark Zuckerberg was recently invited to speak at Harvard’s graduation ceremony, the school from which he had dropped out in order to pursue his business. He had never graduated and now Harvard university chose to honor him, and having him honor them, by addressing the ceremony. Zuckerberg shared some of his perspective on life with the graduates, and he also shared a story which inspired him. When President Kennedy visited NASA’s site he struck up a conversation with the janitor, asking him what he was doing. The janitor responded proudly, “Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”
The janitor did not view his role as inferior because of his position on the ladder. He recognized that there was a major goal the company was working toward and he felt tremendously privileged to be a part of that effort. The perspective he had was illuminating, and unfortunately rare in our age when we put so much value on insignificant status. A dear friend who is now deceased shared with me a similar story, which remains for me a measure for aspiration. Before boarding a train she stood with her luggage on the platform. A porter, an elderly black man who worked for the transit company, approached her baggage to lift it into the overhead compartment where the luggage was kept during the trip. Anxious about some fragile items in her bag she asked him to be careful with it. He paused and turned to look at her with obvious pride in his eyes. “Ma’am, in 40 years I have never dropped a bag.”
The ability to focus on what one is doing, do it well, and be happy for the contribution one can make is illustrated by the Torah in its painstaking repetition of the gifts of the 12 tribes. Every detail was recorded because every detail mattered to the person offering the gift. The Torah wanted to acknowledge that despite the tedium and the length it would take up.