“V’Hanesi’im haviu es Avnei HaShoham v’es Avnei HaMiluim (Shemos 35:27) – And the princes [of the Jews] brought the shoham stones and the miluim stones.” The Torah relates how the nesi’im, the leaders of each tribe, donated the precious stones that were worn by the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) in his priestly garments, the Ephod and the Choshen.
Rashi, quoting the Midrash, notes the contrast between the gifts of these stones and the karbanos (sacrifices) that the nesi’im brought at the inauguration of the Mizbeach (Altar). The Torah relates how the nesi’im were the first to contribute sacrifices on the Mizbeach (Bamidbar 7:1), while in this week’s parshah, their donations of the valuable stones were made only after all the materials for the Mishkan were contributed.
Rashi says that when Moshe invited Bnei Yisrael to begin donating items for the building of the Mishkan, the nesi’im assumed an extremely supportive role. They informed Moshe that they would like to allow all individuals to donate to the Mishkan, and they would then procure all the missing materials needed for its completion. As it turned out, however, the people were extremely enthused, and brought everything necessary for construction of the Mishkan in a few short days. Since the nesi’im delayed in actually giving their contribution, all that was left for them to provide was the precious stones.
Growing From Errors
Rashi comments that the word nesi’im in this one place (Shemos 35:27) is spelled without the letter ‘yud‘ that it usually has, due to the lethargic manner in which the nesi’im brought their benefaction. (In many instances in the Torah, a missing letter in the narrative of a person’s actions indicates a flaw of sorts in the person or persons being described.) To their credit, Rashi points out, the nesi’im learned the lesson of this incident, and were the first to donate karbanos at the inauguration of the Mizbeach.
At first glance, however, it would seem that the nesi’im acted properly. They offered their complete, unwavering support to Moshe and then stepped back and allowed the others to participate. Imagine the following scenario: A synagogue president ascends the pulpit one Shabbos morning and announces that the shul will be undertaking a campaign to construct a new synagogue for the community. A wealthy man pulls him aside later that day and privately instructs him to begin building immediately. He assures the president that he will personally provide any missing funds needed to complete the project. The president would be stunned – and overjoyed!
The nesi’im seemed to reply to Moshe’s request for donations in a similar fashion. What was “missing” in their response? Why was the letter ‘yud‘ missing from their title? Finally, how was their endowment of the stones an appropriate action for them to take at this time?
Kli Yakar explains that the nesi’im were guilty of underestimating the sincerity of Klal Yisrael by thinking that they would not contribute generously to the call of Moshe. A true leader must believe in his people. The nesi’im should have stepped forward at that historic moment, offered the first contribution, and inspired the other people by their personal example. Kli Yakar explains that that touch of superiority in the attitude of the nesi’im resulted in the departure of the letter ‘yud‘ of Hashem’s name from the title of nesi’im. (The Gemara mentions on several occasions that Hashem’s presence is found in the company of humility.)
The nesi’im internalized the lessons they learned from the experience of their delayed gifts. They were the first to offer karbanos the moment the Mizbeach was inaugurated. (The Chofetz Chaim points out that in Parshas Naso, the Torah repeats again and again the exact gift that each nasi brought to the Mishkan, even though each and every sacrifice was exactly the same as the others. He explains that the Torah is teaching us the great value of working together, selflessly, for the honor of Hashem.)
Looking up to the Kohen Gadol
I would like to propose that the nesi’im offered the precious stones worn by the Kohen Gadol as recognition of the lessons they learned from this incident. They sought to direct their attention and the focus of future generation of Jews to the Kohen Gadol – the spiritual leader of Hashem’s people. Simple folk and kings alike would turn to the stones on his Choshen Mishpat for direction and advice. By donating these stones, they validated the primacy of Hashem’s word in our daily lives, and the need to actively seek the guidance of Torah leaders on matters of importance.
How ironic and fitting it is that the stones that were donated as a result of the initial actions of the nesi’im bear the names of the shevatim (tribes) but no mention of the donors of these incredibly expensive gifts. The individual names of the nesi’im are, however, read each year in Parshas Naso, as we remember their inspired and selfless acts of generosity.
The nesi’im are teaching us timeless lessons through their recorded actions – to lead when the opportunity for a mitzvah is at hand, to reflect when an (even well-intentioned) error is made, to correct our course at the earliest opportunity, and to turn to Torah leaders for direction in our lives.
Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos.