Parashah of the week: Naso

“The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nachshon the son of Aminadav of the tribe of Judah” Numbers 7:12


The tabernacle in the wilderness (Wellcome Library)

When I lived in New York, we had a friendly non-Jewish taxi driver we used for airport runs. He once remarked to me (with no malice) that “you guys are so easy to predict”. He told us he sees that the Jewish community follow a daily schedule (prayer services), a weekly schedule of Shabbat, plus all the festivals throughout the year.

After a while, living in a very Jewish neighbourhood, he could predict the next Jewish holiday, as we do the same thing, day in day out, week in week out, year in year out.

Many people may enjoy Jewish rituals and traditions, but find they seem very “same old”. Or I often hear, “I have my personal relationship with God, rabbi — I don’t need a book of rules” and similar refrains.

This week’s parashah contains a detailed account of the gifts that the twelve Princes brought to mark the dedication of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Torah does not waste words, yet the exact same paragraph is repeated 12 times, filling several columns. Why not just put parentheses around the whole section and say “Each of the twelve tribes gave”?

The classic answer is that the Torah wants to teach us that although on the surface the gifts appear the same, they are not. Each item symbolises a different thing to a different tribe, relating to that tribe's role. In this sense, each tribe brought a different flavour to their gifts. While everyone followed the same divine guidelines, the same Torah, each one carried out those same acts with their own personal approach.

We often see tension between conformity and creativity, between tradition and innovation. People ask why Judaism has to be so rigid and conforming. Where is creativity? On the one hand we need the foundation stones of our Jewish tradition; on the other, we need an outlet for our creativity, to personalise, to nurture our own individual talents.

This is not a contradiction. The entire nation can do the very same deed, down to every last detail, yet each person provides a unique flavour. Two people may do the exact same thing but each in a very different way.

Individuality and personal expression do not have to involve rebellion or non-conformity.

The lengthy repetition of the gifts in the parashah reminds us that the greatest personal expression can come from different individuals who are following the same framework yet still put our own stamp on things even as we stick to tried and tested traditions and practices.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive