Society pressures us to be creative individuals. We earn attention for being innovative, original, and outstanding. I watch so many parents worrying about the extra-curricular activities of their 4 year old, thinking about the impact it will have for upon their college application status. Striving to stand out, to be unique is all but demanded in our society today; however, this week’s Torah portion, Naso, we find a different take on that idea.
We discover that the leaders of the 12 Israelite tribes are each to bring God an identical offering at the dedication of the Mishkan. We are treated to an extensive description of each leader giving the same gift as was brought by the previous tribal leader. Torah seems redundant here; why is the scene written out for us in its detailed repetition? Does God really want the same thing brought over and over again? The Torah takes the time here to give each leader his moment in the spotlight. God said, “One Nasi [leader] each day, one Nasi each day, shall bring near his offering for the dedication of the altar.” All of these offerings, each the same, could have been brought all at once, on one single day. Instead, God displays attentiveness to and an appreciation of each individual leader by allowing him his own day. Think about how you feel when you have a moment in the spotlight, a moment of appreciation for the regular person that you are, for a glimmer of acknowledgment from the world. This serves only to remind us to make the time to give that same appreciation and attention to the ordinary and extraordinary gifts of being from those we love – our friends, families, coworkers, and all those with whom our lives intersect in some way. Every one of us craves gratitude, just like the n’si’im who received their individual recognition from God.
If that is the case, then, it is not difficult to consider that the offerings themselves were not the distinguishing feature of the ritual. The offerings brought by the Israelites did not need to be unique or extravagant; the quality and uniqueness of the offering existed in the message of bringing something of value to connect with what is holy in this world. Each Nasi had to enter into the presence of God in the Mishkan on his own, not en masse. By each bringing the same gift, there were no distractions among the n’si’im around the ego of who brought what. It reminds my of something my CPE supervisor at UCLA used to say, that when we were in a patient’s room, our job was to represent the holiness in that space, to be a presence. With this read of Torah, I can say that the lesson is not about presents – what you bring – but, presence – who and how you are in this world. This Shabbat, let’s be present.