In keeping with the name of its parent-sefer (Bamidbar – lit., in the desert), this week’s parsha continues detailing the accounts of Bnei Yisrael as they traveled through the wilderness. The Mishkan was finally complete, and the Torah now describes the dedication of the Mizbeyach. Each tribe’s nasi came forward with his offering, wishing to donate in honor of the inauguration. Interestingly, all 12 brought the same offering! This in and of itself wouldn’t be so surprising if not for the fact that the content of the offering was quite varied and detailed. “One silver bowl, its weight a hundred and thirty shekalim; and one silver basin of seventy shekalim; both of them filled with fine flour mixed with oil for a meal offering; one gold ladle… one bull… one ram… one sheep… one he-goat.”Subsequent to describing the offering, the Torah – which is notoriously ungenerous with its words – goes on to repeat itself 12 times, associating each nasi individually with his dedicatory gift.
The two questions that beg to be addressed are as follows: Firstly, how did the nisiim all come to bring the exact same offering? Secondly, how can we justify the Torah’s uncommon display of verbosity? Wouldn’t it suffice to record the entire offering just once? The Ramban provides two answers. The first is fairly well known. “All the leaders brought on the same day this offering upon which they agreed together. [However,] it was impossible that one should not precede his friend, so G-d honored those [tribes] that had precedence regarding the divisions. However, G-d wished to [honor each one] so He mentioned each offering on its day.”What the Ramban is saying is that the nisiim didn’t just happen to decide to bring the same offering. Each item represented a deeper, underlying idea, and when the nisiim thought it out together they agreed on what would be most appropriate to include. However, so as not to disrespect one’s involvement over his fellow’s, Hashem listed all 12.
The Ramban then goes on to reference (what my research bore out to be) an extremely lengthy Midrash. Contrary to the first answer of the Ramban, the Midrash describes how all the nisiim came to bring the same offering independent of each other! The nasi of Reuven had one intention when he brought the 130 shekel-weight silver bowl, the nasi of Shimon had a different intention, and the nasi of Yissachar had yet a third purpose! Similarly, the gold ladle brought by Zevulun’s nasi was brought for a different reason than the ladle brought by the nasi of Asher. Thus, although all the offerings were outwardly identical, each nasi had his own underlying kavanos which led him to decide what to bring.
However, if you’re following the give and take, you might have realized that we have not yet addressed both of our questions. While the Midrash that the Ramban quoted definitely explains how the offerings came to be identical, it does not explain why the Torah felt the need to repeat itself 12 times. True, the offerings stemmed from several diverse rationales. True, the deep concepts represented in the gifts varied from nasi to nasi. But none of these things are seen in the actual gifts. Each nasi brought the same silver bowl, the same gold ladle, and the same he-goat. If one were charged with providing a description of the actual gifts that were brought by each nasi, the list would be monotonously repetitious. Why then, according to this Midrash, does the Torah find it necessary to reiterate the same thing over and over again?