The one who offered his offering on the first day was Nachshon the son of Aminadav, of the tribe of Judah. And his offering was: One silver dish, weighing 130 shekels. One silver bowl of 70 shekels… On the second day offered Nethanel the son of Tzuar, of the tribe of Issachar. And his offering was: One silver dish, weighing 130 shekels. One silver bowl of 70 shekels… (7:12-23)
The Torah is very mincing with words: many a complex chapter of Torah law is derived from a choice of context, a turn of language, even an extra letter. Yet in our Parshah, the Torah seemingly “squanders” dozens of verses by itemizing the gifts brought by the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel on the occasion of the inauguration of the Sanctuary. Each tribe brought its offering on a different day, but the gifts they each brought were identical in every respect, down to the weight of the silver plate and the age of the five lambs. Nevertheless, the Torah recounts each tribe’s gift separately, repeating the 35-item list twelve times in succession.
The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 13 & 14) implies that while the twelve tribes made identical offerings, each experienced the event in a different manner. Each of the 35 items in the offering symbolized something–a personality or event in Jewish history, or a concept in Jewish faith or practice–but to each tribe, they symbolized different things, relating to that tribe’s role. For the twelve tribes represent the various vocations amongst the people of Israel–Judah produced Israel’s kings, leaders and legislators; Issachar its scholars; Zebulun its seafarers and merchants, and so on. All conform to the same Divinely ordained guidelines, all order their lives by the same Torah; yet each flavors the very same deeds with his individual nature and approach.
Often, we tend to see a tension between conformity and creativity, between tradition and innovation. On the one hand, we recognize the bedrock of absolutes upon which a meaningful existence must rest, the time-tested truths which transcend cultures and generations; on the other, we are faced with the powerful drive to create, to personalize, to grow and soar with our individualized talents and tools.
Our daily prayers, for example, follow the basic text instituted by the prophets and sages of the Great Assembly more than 2,400 years ago; as such, their content and wording optimally express the manner in which man relates to G-d. Yet how is the individual in man to be satisfied with a common formula for every person?
Is monotony the price we must pay for perfection? Does creativity compromise truth? Not so, say the 72 “repetitious” verses in our Parshah. An entire nation, including individuals of every conceivable character and calling, can do the very same deed, down to every last detail, and still imbue them with their uniquely personal input. Even as they relate to the ultimate common denominator of their bond with G-d, they each bring to the experience the richness of their own creative souls.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Moishe Epstein was completely lost in the kitchen and never ate unless his wife Rose prepared a meal for him. But when Rose became ill, Moishe knew it was time to step up so he volunteered to go to the supermarket for her. She sent him off with a carefully numbered list of seven items.
Moishe returned shortly, very proud of himself, and proceeded to unpack the grocery bags. He had one bag of sugar, two dozen eggs, three packages of chicken, four boxes of detergent, five boxes of crackers, six eggplants, and seven green peppers.