Shabbat Naso

As we read Naso, we come to a season of gift giving at graduations and weddings including the ceremony of Kabbalat Torah at Shavuot in Liberal Synagogues.

Gifts are often chosen to represent the relationship of the donor to the recipient. Can you imagine a simchah where every gift that the recipient opens is exactly the same?

At the dedication of the tabernacle described in this week’s Torah portion that is exactly what happens. There is a 12 day festival during which each tribe offers the same gifts. The Torah describes each tribe’s gifts in turn repeating the same list 12 times. Each tribe brings a silver bowl, silver basin, mixed flour, oil, gold ladle, a bull, ram, lamb and goat! The rabbis bewildered at this strange set of gifts repeated 12 times felt certain that they must represent a higher symbolic value and came up with the following significations: The bowl and basin represent the oral and written Torah, the flour and oil is study combined with good deeds,  the ladle is the tablets of stone with 10 Commandments, the bull represents the Priests, the ram the Levites, the lamb the Israelites and the goat the Proselytes. Each of these in the rabbis’ eyes were tools for building community. They were each needed for the establishment of a just society that included law and justice, a learning community, spiritual leadership and individual commitment. It was not important to God that these were all the same, it was however important to each tribe offering it. For only if each sector of society commits to a common set of values, can there be a shared value system for all.

There is a Hasidic story of a wedding where the guests were all invited to bring their own wine and pour it into a giant vat for everyone to share. All brought a bottle and poured it into the vat but when the tap was opened, out poured pure water. Each guest had said to him or herself, since everyone else will bring wine, I need only bring water and of course everyone had said the same thing.

We need to bring our gifts to build our communities and the gifts are not dissimilar whether it be from different religious traditions or cultural backgrounds. However if we do not commit to this offering, then we shall all be living in a society that is bland and vacuous. Judaism has aspired to a better community and society for all and Naso reminds us of the gifts we still have yet to bring.

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