NASO (Numbers, 4:28-7:89) — “Play It Again, Achira”

It happens every Chanukah and it will happen again this Saturday.

Leining,” or Torah reading, is a very challenging endeavor that takes talent and perseverance to master.  A good Baal Kriah –Torah Reader, makes a difficult job look easy.  Typically, he has spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours over many years, reviewing the weekly Torah Portions, forcing himself to remember the correct “Trop,” the traditional musical notes that accompany these verses, as well as mastering the correct pronunciation of the words themselves. A friend of mine who is a real pro tells me that in the early years after his Bar Mitzvah, he would spend 15 to 20 hours per week in preparation for this monumental, and somewhat thankless task.

And yet, this week, everybody’s an expert.  People who never approach the Torah Scroll to read from it will be pacing around the Shul without a Chumash (Bible), singing along with the Torah reader, correctly intoning each and every nuance of tune and pronunciation of the Torah text.  Why, of all of the sections of the Torah, do people know this week’s Portion so well?

The end of this week’s reading includes the Torah Readings for each of the eight days of Chanukah, so it’s a little more familiar than most. But still, why do people know it so well that they could recite it by heart?!

At 176 verses, “Naso” is the longest single portion in the Torah.  However, the unusual length doesn’t make it more difficult to read.  In fact, it’s easier because it is full of repetition.  In describing the gifts that the princes of each of the twelve tribes brought to the Tabernacle for the dedication of the Altar, Chapter 7 uses words (and tunes) that are continually repeated in identical monotony:

On Day number #___, the prince of the Tribe of_______, _________, son of _________.  His offering was one silver bowl weighing 130 shekels, one silver basin weighing 70 sacred shekels, both of them filled with fine flour mixed with oil for a meal offering; one golden ladle weighing 10 shekels, filled with incense; one young bull, one ram, one yearling sheep for a burnt offering, one goat for a sin offering; and the following for a peace offering: two oxen, five rams, five male goats, and five yearling sheep.  This was the offering of __________son of ________.”

Twelve times the Torah mentions a prince bringing a gift.  Twelve times the Torah spells out in detail exactly what he brought — a carbon copy of yesterday’s prince’s gift.  (On the first seven days of Chanukah, we read of the gifts that were brought on the first seven days of the dedication of the Altar in the desert.  On the last day of Chanukah, we read days eight through twelve.  Is it any wonder that everybody knows the reading by heart?!)

We know that the Torah doesn’t waste words.  Why is each prince’s gift repeated word for word?  Would it not have sufficed to write “The following gifts were brought by each of the twelve princes of the tribes on subsequent days: One silver bowl weighing 130 shekels, one silver basin…”?

There are two important lessons we can learn from the Torah’s repetition of apparently redundant verses.

1) THE SINCERITY OF THE PRINCES

The Torah repeats each prince’s gift in detail in order to inform us that each prince brought his gift with a new feeling of dedication and inspiration; it wasn’t just an imitation of what yesterday’s guy brought.  While the ingredients were the same, each offering was new and different in the spirit in which it was given.

Have you ever come into Shul and found yourself uninspired due to the fact that today’s prayers are identical to the prayers you said last time you were there?  Wouldn’t it be nice if traditional synagogues would allow for some personal creativity in expressing our prayers to the Almighty?  Why can’t we be like some other houses of worship where the prayer book is a loose-leaf notebook, allowing for inclusions and deletions?

The truth is that Torah Judaism leaves plenty of room for personal expression.  While the main body of our prayers was composed by the Great Assembly over 2,000 years ago, it is fitting and proper for us to include our personal requests as well.  However, truly inspired prayer comes less through new words from the mouth, and more through new feelings from the heart.

We never tire of breathing just “because we did it yesterday,” nor do we decide to take a break from eating because it “no longer inspires us.” Every moment of life is a gift from G-d and we need to look for the beauty and novelty in every priceless moment.

2) THE UNIQUENESS OF THE PRINCES

G-d wanted to demonstrate to the princes that each and every one of them was important.  No one should assume that he or she is an unimportant blip on a screen, identical to everyone else.

It is very easy to view the rest of the world as anonymous.  Did we ever stop to think, while sitting in a traffic jam on the FDR Drive, (or wherever!) that every other car out there contains a human being, someone who wants to get home just as much as we do, someone who also has to make a living and has a family, and hates being honked at and being cut off by another car JUST AS MUCH AS WE DO?

G-d gave special notice to each and every gift giver, rather than viewing him as one of several duplicates of gift giver #1.  The gift of Achira ben Eynan, prince of the Tribe of Naphtali (Day #12), was just as precious in G-d’s eyes as the gift of Nachshon ben Aminadav of Judah (Day # 1).

Every other person, whether we know him or not, is special in the eyes of G-d.  And so are we.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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From the Archives

“How to Spell ‘I Love You’” (2010)

…Can this marriage be saved? SHOULD this marriage be saved? … 

An abbreviated  Torah scroll is written, with parchment, ink, and quill. All of the sanctity of a Torah will be invested into that little scroll. G-d’s name, in Hebrew, will be written on this scroll seven times and then erased.

Erased?! What happened to the respect that we’re supposed to have for G-d’s name? Are we actually expected to erase the holy name of G-d? … Why should we show such dishonor to G-d’s name? We normally go to great lengths to avoid such a thing. Why is His name suddenly expendable?…

Read more.  

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“There Goes the Neighborhood” (2009) 

…The Tabernacle sat in the middle of the camp. The enclosed area of the Tabernacle was called “The Camp of G-d’s Presence.” It was surrounded by a second encampment, “The Levitical Camp.” As the name implies, that is where the Levites camped. The third encampment was where the other tribes camped. It was called “The Camp of Israel.” 

The Camp of Israel was a place of holiness; those who were defiled were required to stay out of the encampment until they could undergo a purification process: 

G-d spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the Israelites to expel from the camp everyone with Tzora’as, every Zav, and everyone who has been contaminated … 

Read more.

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“Wine Not?” (2007) 

For some people, 365 are not enough. 

There are 613 Commandments in the Torah; 248 positive and 365 negative. While it is forbidden to add any Mitzvahs, there is a way that a person can accept additional prohibitions within the framework of existing commandments… 

A Nazir is a person who chooses to separate himself by prohibiting several activities that would otherwise be permitted: He does not consume grape products. He demonstrates his disdain for the social scene by allowing his hair to grow wild and unkempt. He lives a life of holy separation; he maintains a high level of spiritual purity, avoiding contact with the dead. 

The Nazir is a person who decides to get closer to G-d by removing himself from some of the physical pleasures that the world has to offer. He is a spiritual person who has voluntarily accepted upon himself a restrictive lifestyle… 

What is going on here? Is it good to be a Nazir or is it bad? Is it a sin to refrain from wine, or is it a sin to go back to drinking wine? 

The answer, in typical Jewish fashion, is that it depends… 

Read more.

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“Once Upon a Bus Trip” (2004) 

… It seemed like just another weekend.  Last Friday, the girls of the Bais Yaakov High School in Monsey, New York, set off for a weekend of inspiration and unity at a camp in the Catskills.  They studied, prayed, and sang together over Shabbos.  Early Sunday morning they boarded the busses for their return to Monsey. 

While driving down a steep hill, the first bus went out of control, crashing through a guardrail.  The bus slid 25 feet down an embankment, ending up partially submerged in a river. 

The short story is that there were several girls with broken bones and stitches, and three with more serious injuries.  Everyone survived. 

The long story is much more complex.  Emergency workers and volunteers rushed to the scene.  Among the necessary items they brought were body bags.  Their use was anticipated.  The Chevra Kadisha, religious burial society, was summoned as well.  Fatalities were expected.  Miraculously, there were none. 

It would be the epitome of arrogance for me to presume to know why G-d provided this extra measure of Divine Protection to these precious young ladies.  However, I’d like to suggest we consider the following… 

Read more.

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“Blessing the Blessers” (2003) 

… 1) Why is it the job of the Kohanim to bless the Nation? Why can’t ANYBODY do it?

2) Why does G-d need to have somebody bless us? Why doesn’t He do it Himself?! (After all, the Kohanim are simply asking G-d to bless us!)

3) Everybody lines up in front of the Kohanim to be blessed. When do the Kohanim get to line up in front of someone to be blessed? Who blesses THEM?!… 

Read more.

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“Play It Again, Achira” (2001)

… Have you ever come into Shul and found yourself uninspired due to the fact that today’s prayers are identical to the prayers you said last time you were there? Wouldn’t it be nice if traditional synagogues would allow for some personal creativity in expressing our prayers to the Almighty? …

Read more.  

This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2014 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on May 30, 2001 at 11:15 am  Comments (1)  

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. We must try to be like the Princes of Israel in the gift of prayer that we give to Hashem. This may take practice and work. An actor says the same lines every performance but has to make it seem like the first time. Perhaps we should develop a system that enables us to do this. They say the early Chassidim went out an hour before dawn to meditate before praying. May we be successful in our efforts.
    Shabbat Shalom


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