"Bringing on the first day, his offering was…." (Num. 7:12-83)

The Torah uses words sparingly, informing us of many important rules and laws with just a few words or even only by allusion.

Yet, in the Weekly Reading of Naso, the sacrifices brought by the 12 leaders are repeated in their entirety all twelve times. Why does the Torah not enumerate the details of the offering only once and simply state that this same offering was brought by all twelve leaders?

The twelve tribes personify the twelve archetypal approaches to forging a Jewish relationship with G‑d and fulfilling our purpose on earth; twelve variations on the general theme. The purpose of sacrifices is to bring the one bringing an offering closer to G‑d and to elicit spiritual and material beneficence from heaven. The Altar's inauguration was thus its "initiation" into elevating the twelve spiritual pathways represented by the twelve tribes as well as eliciting the unique spiritual and material nourishment required by each. This is why the princes of the twelve tribes had to inaugurate the Altar, and it was not sufficient for Moses and Aaron to do so by themselves.

...each prince had different intentions when he brought his offerings.

Therefore, each prince had different intentions when he brought his offerings. Each leader initiated the Altar into a different "hue" of spiritual energy into the physical world, corresponding to the spiritual nature of his specific tribe. Similarly, nowadays, when the description of their offerings is read from the Torah in the synagogue, each tribe ascends via its unique path to heaven and receives the spiritual nourishment that pertains to it.

The question remains, however: If each leader was attempting to accomplish something different from the others, why did they all bring the same exact offering? How could they express their individuality through conformity?

That, of course, is exactly the point. Their offerings represented two opposite but complementary aspects of our relationship with G‑d: First and foremost, they expressed the collective relationship between G‑d and the people as a whole, the common denominator shared by every Jew. The essence of the Jewish soul, the experience of serving G‑d as a Jew—all this they shared, and for this reason the offerings they brought were all the same.

(It is for this reason also that G‑d told Moses to have the princes give their offerings in an uninterrupted sequence of twelve days, even though this meant that the prince of the tribe of Ephraim gave his offering on the Shabbat. Since the princes' offerings expressed the collective relationship of the people as a whole with G‑d, they had the status of communal offerings rather than private offerings, and could therefore be offered on the Shabbat.)

...each leader represented a unique tribe.

At the same time, however, each leader represented a unique tribe. Despite conforming outwardly and following the same procedure, each one maintained the individual intentions behind their actions and thus distinguished themselves from the others. Therefore, although the physical offering may have been the same, the Torah lists each one separately.

This dynamic is replayed in countless aspects of Jewish life. We are bidden to conform in many ways: we recite the same words in our prayers and even pray together as a public unit, and we perform more or less the same commandments, all in the same way. Yet, at the same time, we are individuals. We are not only permitted to express our own individual feelings and intent in our prayers and deeds—we are required to do so. In this way, we retain our individual identity while at the same time acting as a part of the greater unit.

Furthermore, just as the Torah repeats the same words again and again but the inner meaning is different each time, so too we are intended to bring new meaning to the actions and words that we repeat daily. Every day's prayers and deeds should have their own special meaning and reflect the unique spiritual accomplishments we have made since the last time we prayed or performed them.

Copyright 2003 chabad of california / www.lachumash.org