Rabbi Eliakim Koenigsberg
Sacrifices for Unity
At the end of Parshas Naso the Torah describes the sacrifices that the nesi'im brought during the dedication of the Mishkan. In describing these korbanos, the Torah repeats the same formula twelve times. Why did the nesi'im each bring the exact same korban? And why did the Torah have to repeat the details of the korban twelve times? These pesukim are every ba'al korei's dream, but why are they necessary? The Torah could have just listed the names of the nesi'im and then said that they all brought the same sacrifice.
The Ramban (Naso 7:2-5) answers that the Torah describes the korban of each nasi separately because in fact they did not bring the same korban. They may have offered the same animals and the same items, but each one had different reasons for bringing the various elements of his korban. Rashi (based on the Midrash) outlines the intentions of Nesanel ben Tzu'ar, the nasi of shevet Yissachar. But according to the Ramban, each nasi had his own special thoughts and intentions in mind when offering each element of his korban. The Torah demonstrates this by describing the korban of each nasi separately to show that each of their korbanos was unique. But it still seems puzzling. If each nasi wanted to bring a different korban, why did they all offer the same animals and the same vessels?
The Chofetz Chaim takes a different approach. He suggests that the nesi'im intentionally brought exactly the same korban so that they should not feel jealousy toward each other (like what happened with Kayin and Hevel). No nasi should feel that his korban was more beautiful or more expensive. No shevet should think that its nasi was superior to that of any other shevet.
The Chofetz Chaim adds that this is the deeper meaning behind the comment of the Midrash that Nesanel ben Tzu'ar suggested this idea to the nesi'im. He didn't simply advise them to bring korbanos. Rather, his advice was that each one of them should bring the same korban so that everyone should be equal in the dedication of the Mishkan and no one should feel jealous of someone else.
The Midrash continues that Hashem was so happy with this attitude of the nesi'im that He told them to bring their korbanos even on Shabbos. Although normally the korban of an individual may not be brought on Shabbos, an exception was made for the korbanos of the nesi'im. It was as if Hashem were saying, "I want to have a part in your beautiful gesture, so take my Shabbos with you. Allow me to be part of this wonderful effort to prevent jealousy." The Torah describes the korban of each nasi separately to highlight and to emphasize how important it is to act in a way that prevents jealousy.
That is not to say that individuality and personal expression have no place in avodas Hashem. The fact is there is a concept of hiddur mitzvah (beautifying a mitzvah). Every person can determine how much additional money he will spend on his esrog, his tefillin or his korban to enhance the mitzvah beyond its basic obligation. But if the Torah recognizes the importance of personal expression, then why was Hashem so pleased with the nesi'im for offering the same korban?
Perhaps the answer is that the concept of equality was especially critical at the dedication of the Mishkan. Chazal comment (Avos 3:6) that when ten people learn Torah together, the Shechina dwells amongst them. And the same is true when five people learn Torah together, or three or two or even one. The Mishna cites pesukim to prove each of these statements. Apparently, while the Shechina is found even with one person learning Torah, it dwells with greater intensity in a group of ten. The larger the tzibbur (the group) that unites together in Torah, the greater will be the presence of the Shechina within that group. The most intense revelation of Hashem's presence in all of history was at the giving of the Torah on Har Sinai. That is why the prerequisite for kabbolas haTorah and the experience of ma'amad Har Sinai was the unity of the Jewish people. "Vayichan sham Yisrael neged hahar - and the Jewish people camped opposite the mountain, k'ish echad b'leiv echad - like one man with one heart." (Rashi, Yisro 19:2). For Hashem to reveal Himself with the greatest intensity, all of Klal Yisrael had to unite together to create the largest tzibbur possible.
The presence of the Shechina in the Mishkan was a replica of its presence at Har Sinai (see Ramban, beginning of Parshas Yisro). To enable the Mishkan to become a structure worthy of housing the presence of the Shechina with the same intensity as on Har Sinai, it had to be a place which united the hearts of Klal Yisrael. This was accomplished through the heartfelt donation in which every member of Klal Yisrael participated - "mei'eis kol ish asher yidvenu libo" (see Gra, Shir Hashirim 1:17). And this feeling continued throughout the building and the dedication of the Mishkan.
Perhaps this is why Hashem was so pleased with the korbanos of the nesi'im. The dedication of the Mishkan was not an appropriate time for self-expression. It was a time to unite all of Klal Yisrael together, to ensure that the Mishkan would be a worthy place for the Shechina to dwell. By offering korbanos in a way that prevented jealousy and promoted unity, the nesi'im demonstrated they were willing to sacrifice their personal avodas Hashem for the greater good, to help establish the Mishkan as a place where the Shechina would feel welcome.
Personal initiative and self-expression are important values in avodas Hashem. But sometimes it is by not promoting ourselves but by uniting together with all of Klal Yisrael that we strengthen our connection with Hakadosh Baruch Hu and we make ourselves even more worthy of His bracha.