ESSAY: Repeatedly Different, Differently
Twelve oxen, six wagons and a repetitious list of 420 gifts
illuminate the nature of our individuality and commonality
INSIGHTS: The Doorway of Choice
The voice did not slacken as it traveled through space,
as a finite voice would. But it stopped short at the doorway
Repeatedly Different, Differently One
And it came to pass on the day that Moses had concluded
setting up the Sanctuary, and had anointed it and sanctified
it. The nessiim of Israel, the heads of their
clans... brought their offerings before G-d: six covered wagons
and twelve oxen: a wagon for each two of the nessiim,
and for each one, an ox...
And the nessiim brought [other] offerings
for the dedication of the altar... And G-d said to Moses:
One nassi a day, one nassi a day, shall they
bring their offerings...
The one who offered his offering on the first day was
Nachshon the son of Aminadav, of the tribe of Judah. And his
offering was: One silver dish, weighing 130 shekels; one silver
bowl of 70 shekels... both of them filled with fine flour
mingled with oil. One spoon of ten shekels of gold filled
with incense. One young bullock, one ram, one yearling lamb,
for a burnt offering. One kid for a sin offering. And the
following for peace offerings: two oxen, five rams, five he-goats,
five yearling lambs. This was the offering of Nachshon the
son of Aminadav.
On the second day offered Netanel the son of Tzuar,
of the tribe of Issachar. And his offering was: One silver
dish, weighing 130 shekels. One silver bowl of 70 shekels...
On the first of Nissan in the year 2449 (1312 bce), nine
months after the revelation at Mount Sinai and nearly a year
after the Exodus, the Sanctuary built by the command of G-d
to serve as a Tent of Meeting between Him and
His people was dedicated. On that and the following eleven
days, the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel each brought
a series of gifts and offerings as their respective tribes
participation in the inauguration of the Sanctuary.
In describing these gifts, the Torah does a surprising thing:
although each tribe brought exactly the same items, it recounts
each tribes offering separately, repeating the detailed
list twelve times. The Torah is often so mincing
with words that it expresses many complex laws with a single
added letter; yet here it expends seventy-two extra
verses, making the section of Nasso (Numbers 4:21-7:89) the
longest in the Torah.
Also requiring explanation is the very notion of tribal
gifts at the Sanctuarys dedication, which seems
out of character with the nature of the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary
was to serve as the point of Israels common bond with
the Almighty, with Aaron and his sons serving as the collective
representatives of the people in their service of G-d. Indeed,
Moses hesitated to accept the offerings of the nessiim,
since he felt that a joint contribution, offered on behalf
of the people as a whole, would be more appropriate. It was only when G-d Himself intervened,
commanding Moses to accept these gifts, that the Sanctuary
was dedicated with the individual offerings of the twelve
tribal heads of Israel.
Wagons and Silver Plates
Actually, there were two different sets of gifts brought
by the tribes:
a) Six wagons, each with a pair of oxen, for the purpose
of transporting the Sanctuary. The twelve nessiim
jointly presented this offering on the day that the Sanctuary
was inaugurated. Each tribe contributed one ox and joined
with another tribe to bring one of the six wagons.
b) Each tribe brought a series of offerings, including gold
and silver vessels, incense, fine flour and livestocksome
thirty-five items in all. Each tribes offering was identical,
from the weight of the silver in each plate to the age of
each lamb. Yet each was brought to the Sanctuary on a different
day, beginning with the tribe of Judah on the 1st of Nissan
and concluding with the tribe of Naphtali on the 12th of that
Why two sets of gifts? Why was the first set brought collectively
on the first day of Nissan, and the second by each individual
tribe on a different day? Why, indeed, did G-d insist that
each tribe be individually recognized? An examination of these
two groups of offerings shows that while Moses vision
of a single, common offering from all of Israel was rejected
in favor of the individualized offerings of nessiim,
in fact, the nature of these offerings only underscored the
unity of Israel.
Israel is G-ds one nation on earth: comprised of individual human
beings, each with his and her distinct mindset, character,
temperament, talents and aptitudes, yet united by a common
essence and calling.
There are two aspects to this vision of an assemblage of
individuals as a single entity: interdependence, and inherent
Because we share a common goal, and because we have a crucial
role to play in the achievement of this goal, millions of
diverse individuals complement and fulfill one another to
create a single entity. In other words, the differences themselves
are what create the unity. Since the entity Israel
and what it stands for would be incomplete were even a single
Jew to be missing from the equation, no Jew is fully Jewish
without his relationship with every other Jew.
This is what the nessiim demonstrated with their
gift of six covered wagons and twelve oxen, a wagon
for each two of the nessiim, and for each one,
an ox. True, we are comprised of various tribes,
each distinguished by its particular character. True, we each
bring our unique contribution to the fulfillment of Israels
mission: Judah the might and majesty of a lion, Naphtali the
swiftness of a gazelle, Dan the ingenuity of a snake; Issachar
produces scholars, Zevulun merchants, Asher olive-growers,
Gad warriors, Menasseh shepherds and Simon schoolteachers.
Yet we recognize that while we each have been blessed with
something our fellow tribes do not have, it is
they who provide us with what we lack. Half a wagon
is uselesswe must combine our gifts in order to have
something with which to transport the Tent of Meeting
in our journey through the spiritual desert that is our material
world. And while we may perhaps be able to produce a complete
ox by our own efforts, it takes two oxen
to pull our common wagon.
b) Inherent Synonymy:
The second vision of unity posits that underneath it all,
the many and diverse vocations and personalities that make
up the Jewish nation are all expressions of a singular essence.
It is not only that all these lives combine to form a collective
endeavor (as with the oxen and wagons), but that they are
intrinsically one. The nation of Israel is a single soul shining
through a many-faceted prism: while each facet unleashes its
particular collage of colors in the ray it refracts, the light
they all convey is one and the same.
This is the idea expressed by the second group of offerings
brought by the nessiim. Each tribe brought the
very same items; yet the Torah, most uncharacteristically,
repeats the list twelve times, regarding each tribes
gift as an entirely original contribution. The explanation
for this can be found in the Midrashs commentary on
these verses, which expounds on the allegorical significance
of these gifts. Each and every detail of these thirty-five
itemsthe type of vessel, its material, its weight, the
species of the animal offerings, their number, their age,
etc.symbolized something. But to each tribe they symbolized
something else. To Judah, the tribe of kings and lawgivers,
they represented different aspects of their role as sovereigns
and leaders; to Issachar, it all pertained to scholarship
and Torah study; and so on.
In other words, the Torah is emphasizing that each tribe
brought its own experience and perspective to its offering.
The very same act was differently colored by the individual
nature of each of its actors: each was expressing the same
eternal truth via his own personality and lifestyle.
End and Means
Hence the necessity for both sets of offerings by the nessiim.
With their first offering of six wagons and twelve oxen,
the nessiim expressed how our differences, when
applied in concert and harmony, themselves create a unified
The second group of offerings expressed a more profound unity:
that even as we each pursue our divinely ordained role, each
living his life on his day in his way, we are
all doing the same thing. For in origin and essence
we are one, and our individual lives and accomplishments are
the many expressions of a single quest.
The first aspect of our unity concerns only the end
of our mission as a nation, not its means. The ultimate purpose
of it all is a singular, unified existence, but as long as
we have not visibly attained this goal, we are separate and
apart. The second aspect, however, relates to the intrinsic
oneness we possess even before our individual paths have converged
upon the same destination. It demonstrates how the very process
of life, as we each apply the talents and abilities that have
been granted us, constitutes a single endeavor: to make our
lives a Tent of Meeting, a place to house the
all-pervading truth of G-d.
Based on the Rebbes talks on Nissan 12, 5740 (March
29, 1980) and Nissan 5, 5743 (March 19 1983) 
The Doorway of Choice
And when Moses would enter the Sanctuary to speak with
[G-d], he would hear the voice speaking to him from above
the cover of the Ark of Testimony, from between the two kruvim;
and it spoke to him [only].
One might think that this (the fact that only Moses heard
the voice of G-d) was because the voice was low. So the verse
stresses that it was the voice'---the same voice
that spoke to him at Sinai. But when it reached the doorway
it stopped, and did not extend outside of the Sanctuary.
A basic tenet of the Jewish faith is that man has been granted
the freedom to choose between good and evil, between adherence
to his divinely ordained mission in life and rebellion against,
or even denial of, his Creator. As Maimonides writes, Were
G-d to decree that a person be righteous or wicked, of if
there were to exist something in the essence of a person's
nature which would compel him toward a specific path, a specific
conviction, a specific character trait or a specific deed...how
could G d command us through the prophets do this
and do not do this, improve your ways
and do not follow your wickedness...? What place
would the entire Torah have? And by what measure of justice
would Gd punish the wicked and reward the righteous...?
This is the deeper significance of the divine voices
short stop at the doorway of the Sanctuary. At
Sinai, the words I Am G-d your G-d resounded throughout
the universe, permeating every creature and creation.
At that moment, there was no possibility of doubt in G-ds
reality or of nonconformity to His will.
But then the world fell silent, and the voice retreated to
hover about the Ark of Testimony that contains
G-ds Torah and confine itself to the four walls of the
Sanctuary that houses it.
The volume was not lowered---the voice is no less infinite
and omnipotent than it was at Sinai. One who enters the Sanctuary
hears a voice that penetrates and permeates all, a voice that
knows no bounds or equivocations. But one can choose to remain
outside of the domain of Torah, to deny himself the knowledge
and the way of life in which G-d makes Himself heard. One
can choose to remain outside, in the field of G-ds self-imposed
silence. It is this choice that creates the challenge of life,
making our every moral victory a true and significant achievement.
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Shabbat Naso 5725 (June
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe
by Yanki Tauber
. Ohr HaChaim on Numbers 7:10.
. From the Shabbat afternoon prayers. According to
the Talmud (Berachot 6a), while our tefillin contain
the passage that attests to G-ds onenessHear
O Israel, G-d is our G-d, G-d is oneG-ds
tefillin are inscribed with the words,
Who are like Your people Israel, one nation on earth.
. See ch. 49 of Genesis and Rashis commentary,
. Midrash Rabbah, Bamidbar 13 and 14.
5. Likkutei Sichot, vol. XXIII, pp. 53-59.
 Midrash Rabba, Shmot 5:9-10; see An Absorbant
World, WIR vol. III no. 49
 Indeed, for this reason our sages have said that
we were, in effect, forced to accept the Torah:
what other option was there in face of a divine revelation
of such magnitude? It is only when we reiterated our commitment
under conditions of divine self-concealment that this potential
contest on our covenant with G-d was refuted
(Talmud, Shabbat 88a, as per Torah Ohr, Esther 98d; see
The Thousand Year Difference, WIR vol. III no. 28).
 Likkutei Sichot, vol XIII p. 22-23.