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Divrei Torah on the weekly portions

BeMidbar: Naso

Repetition

“The one to bring his offering on the first day was Nachshon son of Aminadav of the tribe of Yehudah” (BeMidbar 7:12).

Naso is the longest portion in the Torah, but it did not have to be that way! The second half of our Sidra (BeMidbar 7) discusses the dedication of the Tabernacle, detailing the offerings that every Nasi (tribal leader) brought in honour of the auspicious occasion. Each Nasi brought exactly the same items and the Torah repeats verbatim each Nasi’s entire offering, changing only the name of the presenter and his tribe. The Torah is usually very concise and leaves us via the Oral Law to expound the hidden and to deduce the conclusions. In fact, the two Talmudic Tractates that explain the intricate laws of marriage and divorce are derived from only a handful of verses in Devarim. So why, if all twelve tribes brought the exact same gifts, is each and every Nasi's offering detailed over and over?

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky answers this question with the following story:

A noted American Rabbi was invited to address two major cities in South Africa. Since the cities were hundreds of miles apart, he only prepared one speech for both events. It was a wonderful lecture. It encompassed a wide spectrum of Jewish ideas and was filled with Midrash and Jewish law. Informative, enlightening and entertaining, it was the best speech he had ever prepared.

The first night's audience attested to that. They sat with their mouths open, taking in every nuance and motion of the dramatic presentation. After the lecture, a crowd gathered around the Rabbi to praise him and hear variations on his poignant theme.

After such a wonderful reception, the Rabbi thought that the second evening on the other side of the country should be a breeze. As he walked up to the podium to deliver his magnum opus he looked at the crowd and froze. He spotted at lease fifty faces of people he was sure had attended the previous night's speech!

Stunned, he quickly ruffled through the index cards of his mind. He pieced together parts of an old High Holy Day speech, added a little from Chanukah, Purim, and the Hagadah. What resulted was a scattered array of varying thoughts. To say the least, it was not his best performance.

After the speech the same faces of the previous evening gathered once again around the Rabbi. "I'm sorry," he stammered to them, "I had originally planned to repeat last night's speech. Seeing your faces, I hastily arranged a piecemeal lecture based on some previous talks. Had I known you were coming, I would have prepared a totally new talk. I am so sorry for my poor performance."

"But, Rabbi," they replied. "That is exactly why we came! Last night's talk was the most fascinating we had ever heard. We expected you to repeat it! We came all the way to hear it over again word for word!"

The Torah, in repeating the twelve offerings, and spending six verses on each one, leaves us with a message that is as powerful as it is pertinent. Many of our deeds are repeats of generations passed. Many are repeats from yesterday. They are all with our own Kavanah (meaning), and they are all beloved and cherished. Day after day after day.

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