In this week’s reading, we learn about the inaugural offerings brought by the heads of each Tribe of Israel to the Tabernacle. First the Torah spells out for us, in detail, the contents of the first offering, brought by. Nachshon ben Aminodov of the tribe of Yehudah. Then we read the offering brought on the second day by Nesanel ben Tzu’ar of the tribe of Yissachar. Interestingly, Nesanel’s offering is precisely the same as that brought by Nachshon on the previous day. 

Why was his offering the same? And why does the Torah describe Nesanel’s offering in precisely the same detail as that of Nachshon, when it could simply have said something like “so, too, was the offering of Nesanel on the second day?” These questions only gain strength as we learn the offering of Eliav ben Heilon of Zvulun from the third day: it, too, is exactly the same, yet is described in the Torah in full detail. So, too, are all the rest of the twelve. They are all the same, yet all are described in the Torah in the same language, as if they were unique and needed to be spelled out.

Rashi notes a tiny difference in the way the offering of Nesanel, on the second day, is described. The Torah twice says, regarding Nesanel, that “he brought,” while every other day the Torah says simply the day, the leader, and his offering. Why, uniquely by Nesanel, does the Torah add this apparently superfluous detail, and even repeat it?

Rashi explains that the two mentions of “he brought” hint to two reasons to single out Nesanel: first of all, the tribe of Yissocher was knowledgeable in Torah. And the second difference was that it was Nesanel who gave the suggestion to all of the other leaders to give exactly this same offering.

What could have happened on the second day? Nesanel, knowing the offering of Nachshon, could have brought something different. He could have tried to add something of different value, to make a unique contribution.

What would have happened on the third day? Eliav would also have tried to provide an offering that differentiated himself from those who came earlier. And inevitably this would have meant, as we progressed through the twelve tribes, that each one would feel the obligation to give not just something different, but something more, than had his predecessors. In attempting to differentiate themselves, they would also have to not only keep up with, but exceed, what was done earlier. They would strive for bigger and better.

The great wisdom of Nesanel was to perceive that this would happen, and decide instead, as a conscious choice, to give precisely that which Nachshon had given, no less, no more, and no different. Instead of trying for bigger and better, he strove for unity. 

I think that the two answers given by Rashi, explaining how Nesanel was outstanding while not standing out, are closely related. It was his attachment to Torah that made him perceive the future results of his actions, and to not strive for material excess. 

We live in a time when people feel the need to keep up with the Joneses, and to do better, by which we mean bigger. If the neighbor’s bar mitzvah featured an entertainer, my son’s will have a marching band.

Meanwhile, over and over again our rabbis teach us that material success is fleeting, and that money doesn’t buy happiness. Torah, of course, brings us eternity, but I remember Rabbi Yehoshua Bertram of Jerusalem saying, “I’m not telling you about the next world, I talk about how to be happy in this world!”

And this is the reality. As the Chapters of the Fathers says (4:1), “who is happy? He who is happy with his lot.” We truly have much to learn from Nesanel!

Image credit: Ariana Prestes on Unsplash

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