God said to Moses, "One leader each day, one leader each day should bring their offering for the dedication of the altar" Numbers 7:11
No one likes to hear the same thing twice. No one likes to say the same thing twice. So the end of this week's sidrah is perplexing, even downright dull, with its twelve-fold repetition of the princely offerings to the Tabernacle. Each leader brings the same litany of gifts, each recorded in minute detail. What can we learn from repetition?
If you wish your children to realise their potential, begin with marshmallows. A long-term study at Stanford University indicates that the best predictor of socio-economic stability is how well one could wait for another marshmallow at age four. Researchers placed a marshmallow in front of a child and gave them the option to either eat the one marshmallow immediately, or wait 20 minutes and receive two marshmallows. Those who waited eventually got better grades and better jobs.
Why are we talking about marshmallows? Because, whether our children are marshmallow-grabbers or waiters is influenced by parental models. The Torah is a training manual on many levels. How to be good citizens, good neighbours, good human beings. At the end of Naso we get hands-on training in good parenting. Who else but our children would tell us the same story 12 times, changing only a name here or there and demanding our attention throughout? Who else but a parent could choose whether to listen attentively or nod distractedly? So the Torah gives us a test. It is a controlled experiment - cultivate patience in the laboratory of the synagogue, then bring it to life in the crucible of the home.
Parenting takes more than patience, and education is subtler than waiting for marshmallows. Each prince's offering includes golden and silver vessels. The vessels could have been brought empty, but the princes fill them with flour or incense. Engendering patience will not insure success in our children, but it does offer them full vessels to begin the task.