We left off last week’s column trying to decipher the nature of the korbanos that the nesi’im brought, with which they inaugurated the Mizbeach at the opening ceremonies of the Mishkan. Perhaps it was a korban tzibbur, a communal korban, which would seem to be indicated by the fact that it was brought even on Shabbos, and by the fact that each nasi brought the exact same set of korbanos. On the other hand, they were brought, indeed had to be brought, on different days, unlike their original intention which was to bring them all on the same day. And we see that each nasi had very different intentions as to the inner meaning and representation of their respective korbanos.

Let’s take a very brief look at what is meant by that last statement (the following is based on Medrash Rabbah to Nasso):

  • Shevet Yehuda’s korbanos (the first set to be brought, on the first day) reflected principles of malchus.
  • Yissachar’s (day two) reflected that tribe’s dedication to Torah learning.
  •  Zevulun’s (day three) represented the oceans, hinting at that tribe’s living by the seashore and sailing away in ships to do commerce (thus enabling and supporting the Torah of Yissachar ).
  • Day four was for Reuven, with the korbanos reflecting the role Reuven played in saving Yosef from being killed (by suggesting that they throw Yosef into a pit, rather than kill him; this is most likely reflected, on a macro-level, in an ability to lead and to persuade).
  • Fifth was Shimon; their nasi’s gifts were reminiscent of the Mishkan itself, thus representing kedushah.
  • On the sixth day, the nasi of the tribe of Gad brought korbanos which referred to the events of the Egyptian exile until Yetzias Mitzrayim. (The Medrash and its commentaries explain that Gad was the most fearless tribe, as alluded to in Yaakov Avinu’s brachos to them, and they indeed left Mitzrayim with the purest sense of joy, unafraid of the future. Thus, their gifts reflected Yetzias Mitzrayim.)
  • The seventh day was Shabbos, and all the gifts of Shevet Ephraim alluded to the special status enjoyed by Ephraim, whom Yaakov had elevated above his older brother, Yosef’s other son.
  • The eight day was for Menashe, Ephraim’s brother, whose donations represented the specialness that Yaakov transferred to Yosef, their ancestor.
  • Binyamin brought on day nine; his donations referred to that tribe’s past and future history.
  • Dan was day ten; the korbanos brought were allusions to Shimshon, the famous judge, and the laws of nezirus which were the source of Shimshon’s strength.
  • The tribe of Asher brought their korbanos on day eleven; they symbolized the Jewish people’s chosen-ness as a Torah-nation and a holy people.
  • And finally, Naftali brought sacrifices on day twelve, which represented our forefathers and mothers.

And yet, after all this, the Medrash tells us that the nesi’im all had one common goal in mind — and their gifts also represented that point — fundamental events of history from the time of Adam Harishon until the Mishkan’s dedication.

So which is it, individualism or community?

It is commonly understood that each shevet had its own path in avodas HaShem. And this is why we can talk about twelve days of inaugurating the Mizbeach. Twelve days? One would think that it was already inaugurated from day one! The explanation is that each day, the korbanos of each tribe (korban being from the word kurvah, growing close to HaShem) inaugurated the Mizbeach in the particular avodah of that shevet. But that makes it more difficult to understand how it could be considered a communal korban. And how do we understand the underlying mutual theme the Medrash speaks of, after detailing each individual one?

When we talk about the inherent unity of the Jewish people, what exactly are we referring to? Many sefarim speak of the fact the there is one collective nishmas Yisrael, and although upon entering a physical body, our outward appearances make each of us look very different from our neighbor, there is a reality in which we are really, indeed, one. At our core we are one neshamah, bonded with HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

But as the neshamah of each person resides in a different body, and makes up a different person, there are certain qualities in the neshamah which are openly manifested in one person, while in a different person other traits are manifest. This in fact would be similar to the physical body itself, where there are different qualities in different areas of what is a quite single structure, i.e., the hands, the feet, the head all have a specific area of expertise, and functions alone but in tandem with the others to comprise the single body. So, too, although all nishmos Yisrael are one collective neshamah, and the neshamah is perfect and contains all qualities possible, nevertheless, it manifests itself openly in each person very differently. But it is important to remember that these differing qualities are manifestations of the very same neshamah! It is just that that neshamah is exhibiting these qualities in this body, those qualities in that body, and yet a third set of qualities in yet another body.

Such is the nature of Klal Yisrael.

And the derech avodah of each shevet was different — yet that difference was merely a different outward manifestation of the same spiritual entity! And so each shevet had its own “manifestation,” yet incorporated within itself the potential of all the other qualities! Thus the two-layered kavanah the Medrash speaks of, the individual, and the individual as representative of the entire whole, with everyone’s manifest kochos existing potentially within in all others, as all neshamos are one.

Hence the multi-faceted nature of these korbanos — the individual aspect, and the collective one.

E plurubus unum.

To be continued…