At the end of this week’s parashah the Tabernacle is completed and sanctified. For twelve consecutive days, each tribe offers a sacrifice of dedication at the altar. Every day, a new tribe brings its offering, until all twelve have been represented. Each of these twelve sacrifices is listed in minute detail, even though the offerings are all exactly the same.
Commentators question the need to itemise twelve identical sacrifices. The Ralbag (Rabbi Levi ben Gershon, 1288-1344) suggests that we would have expected the princes of the tribes to bring the most lavish offering that they could produce. In a bid to uphold the honour of the tribe, they could have gone to great excess.
Instead, the princes opted to work together and avoided the temptation to outdo each other. The honour of each individual tribe was secondary to the collective honour that they were showing, as a nation, to God and His newly erected Tabernacle.
Rather than creating internal division and jealousy among the tribes, the princes strove to demonstrate that the best way of showing devotion to God is to join together in love and mutual respect.
Midrash Rabbah offers an alternative view. It suggests that although the contents of the sacrifices were identical, the motivations of those who brought them were different, and so deserved to be individually noted. Each representative had his own intentions when offering the sacrifices and attributed his own significance to the dedication.
The lesson for us, especially those of us who are parents or teachers, is to remember that the children in our care might attain equal grades or meet identical milestones — but the achievements that these accomplishments represent are individual and unique.