Classic Questions

Why is it written twice that Nesanel “brought his offering,” in verses 18 and 19?

Rashi: Because Yissachar merited to be the second tribe to offer its sacrifices for two reasons: one, they were knowledgeable in the Torah... second, they were the ones who suggested to the leaders to bring these particular offerings.

In Rabbi Moshe Hadarshan’s composition I found the following:

Rabbi Pinchas the son of Yair says: Nesanel the son of Tzu’ar was the one who gave the suggestion.

  • “One silver bowl” (קערת כסף אחת)—The numerical value of the letters of these words is 930,1 corresponding to the years of Adam, the first man.2 “Weighing 130 [shekels]”— When [Adam] began to establish a family to perpetuate the world, he was 130, as the verse states, “Adam lived 130 years, and he fathered...”3
  • “One silver sprinkling basin” (מזרק אחד כסף)—Its numerical value is 520,4 representing Noach, who began to establish a family when he was 500 years old, and representing the 20 years that the flood had been decreed before his children were born...5 “70 shekels”—corresponding to the 70 nations which emerged from [Noach’s] sons.
  • “One spoon”—corresponding to the Torah, which was given by the hand6 of G‑d. “[Weighing] ten gold [shekels]”—corresponding to the Ten Commandments. “Filled with incense” (קטרת)—Its numerical value corresponds to the 613 commandments.7
  • “One young bull”—corresponding to Avraham, about whom the verse states, “He took a young bull.”8 “One ram”—corresponding to Yitzchak, [of whom the verse states,] “[Avraham] took the ram [and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son].”9 “One lamb”—corresponding to Ya’akov, [of whom the verse states,] “Ya’akov separated the lambs.”10
  • “One male goat”—to atone for the sale of Yosef, of which the verse states, “They slaughtered a young goat.”11
  • “For a peace-offering: two oxen”—corresponding to Moshe and Aharon, who made peace between Israel and their Father in heaven.
  • “Rams...male goats...lambs”—three types, corresponding to Priests, Levites, and Israelites; and corresponding to the Torah, the Prophets, and the Holy Writings. Five [were brought] of each of the three [types], corresponding to the five books of the Chumash, to the five commandments inscribed on the first tablet, and the five commandments inscribed on the second one.

Midrash: Why did the leaders see fit to bring these particular offerings? The Rabbis said: Even though they all made the same offerings, each had a different intention.

  • The leader of Yehudah brought his offerings to commemorate royalty, since Yehudah was a king over his brothers...
  • The leader of Yissachar brought his offerings to commemorate Torah, because they loved Torah more than any of the other tribes...
  • The leader of Zevulun brought his offerings on the third day because his tribe loved Torah and they extended their hands to provide ample funds for Yissachar, so Yissachar would not need to earn a living and would be free to study the Torah. Therefore Zevulun merited to be their partner in Torah, and so they offered after him...
  • The leader of Re’uvain brought his offerings to commemorate Re’uvain’s attempts to save Yosef from being sold...
  • The leader of Shimon brought his offerings to commemorate the construction of the Tabernacle, because Shimon avenged the abduction of Dinah, and likewise the Tabernacle brought the demise of adulterers and sotahs...12
  • The leader of Gad brought his offerings to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt, since Gad was destined to lead the Jewish people across the Jordan, into the Land of Israel...
  • The leader of Efrayim brought his offerings to commemorate Ya’akov, because Ya’akov blessed Efrayim before Menasheh, even though Efrayim was the younger brother...
  • The leader of Menasheh brought his offerings to commemorate Ya’akov and Menasheh...
  • The leader of Binyamin brought his offerings to commemorate Rochel, the mother of Binyamin and Yosef...
  • The leader of Dan brought his offerings to commemorate Shimshon the Nazirite, who was to emerge from the tribe of Dan...
  • The leader of Asher brought his offerings to commemorate the fact that G‑d had happily chosen the Jewish people as His own...
  • The leader of Naftali brought his offerings to commemorate the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.13

The Rebbe's Teachings

The Offerings of Each Leader (V. 12-83)

Rashi’s comments on verses 18-19 prompt the following questions:

  1. Why did Rashi cite numerous allusions and non-literal explanations for the offerings brought to dedicate the Altar, when Rashi himself declared, “I am coming only to explain the literal meaning of scripture”?14
  2. Why did Rashi explain the meaning of the offerings on the account of the second day, and not on the first day?

The Explanation

On reaching the account of “the second day,” when “Nesanel the son of Tzu’ar, the leader of Yissachar brought his offering,”15 Rashi was troubled by an obvious question: Why does the Torah repeat word for word the list of offerings which were brought by “Nesanel the son of Tzu’ar, the leader of Yissachar” on the second day, being that they are identical in every detail to the offerings brought by Nachshon the son of Aminadav on the first day? Why does the Torah not state simply that the same offerings were repeated on the second day? In fact, the reader will soon discover that the Torah states this identical list of offerings no fewer than twelve times!

To address this problem, Rashi cited “the composition of Rabbi Moshe Hadarshan” here, at the account of the second offering, since one is not troubled about repetition until one reads something for the second time.

And Rashi deemed it necessary, on this occasion, to offer a non-literal interpretation, since this was the only way he found to explain the repetition of the leader’s offerings.

In other words: Rashi’s goal is to explain every problem that arises at the literal level as simply and as literally as possible. Sometimes, however, when no literal solution is available, Rashi is forced to cite a non-literal Midrashic solution, since the question demands an answer. In such a case, however, Rashi will cite the most simple and appropriate “non-literal” solution, that deviates the least from a literal interpretation.

In our case, this presents us with a difficulty, because the solution of the Midrash (see Classic Questions above) appears to solve our question at the literal level much better than the “composition of Rabbi Moshe Hadarshan” which Rashi cites. For since the reader is troubled about why the Torah repeats the identical offerings of the leaders twelve times, the explanation of the Midrash, that each leader brought his offerings to commemorate a totally different concept or event, would appear to solve the problem perfectly. For with this, the reader would understand that the Torah repeated these offerings because, despite first appearances, they are not the same offerings at all, but each have an entirely different theme.

On the other hand, the solution from “the composition of Rabbi Moshe Hadarshan,” which Rashi cites, does not appear to solve our problem. For R’ Moshe Hadarshan only offered one single interpretation of the same offerings brought by all the leaders, which does not appear to explain why the Torah repeated the offerings twelve times.

Rashi’s Difficulty with the Midrash

Even a young child who is studying the Chumash for the first time appreciates that the Tabernacle’s offerings were filled with significance and meaning. The child also understands that the significance of these offerings is reflected by their physical components.

So, at the literal level, the Midrash’s interpretation (that each leader brought his offering in commemoration of a different idea) is difficult to accept, because if the theme of each offering was totally different, then the leaders would have brought different offerings (physically) to reflect these different themes.

On the other hand, if the leaders all brought their offerings with the same intention, then we are left with our original question: Why did the Torah repeat the same offerings twelve times?

So Rashi concluded that the offerings must have possessed both common, central themes, as well as individual variations specific to each tribe. Thus, the leaders brought the same (physical) offerings, since the general theme was the same; but within the general theme, different aspects could be highlighted by each tribal leader. And this variation was indicated by the Torah’s repetition of each sequence of offerings.

Based on the above, we can now appreciate why Rashi deemed R’ Moshe Hadarshan’s composition to be the most suitable explanation at the literal level. For each of R’ Moshe Hadarshan’s allusions refer to unified central themes that apply to all the tribes, but at the same time they also include a spectrum of aspects for each tribe to select and represent.1617