We read in this week’s sedra of the inauguration of the Mizbeach (the Altar) which lasted for twelve days, with special korbanos being brought by the twelve nesi’im, each one being the head of his tribe. It seems that these nesi’im had lost their share in the mitzvah of contributing materials for the building of the Mishkan, as they had decided to wait until after the people had finished contributing to supplement anything that would be still missing. However, as we know, within two days the people supplied more gold, silver, and other valuable materials than could be used! Moshe Rabbeinu, in fact, had to issue a special decree asking people to stop donating! The nesi’im realized that they had lost their share in this great mitzvah, and therefore now, at the initiation ceremonies of the Mishkan, asked Moshe Rabbeinu for permission to donate initiation sacrifices with which the Mizbeach would be consecrated. HaShem agreed and authorized Moshe Rabbeinu to accept sacrifices from each nasi, one per day, beginning with Nachson ben Aminadav of the tribe of Yehudah, bringing his korbanos on Rosh Chodesh Nisan.
We read in the Torah that each and every nasi donated the very same set of korbanos on his respective day: a silver bowl weighing 130 shekel, filled with a flour-oil mixture for a mincha; a silver basin weighing 70 shekel, also filled with a flour-oil mixture for a mincha [Ramban writes that both the bowl and the basin had the same measurements, but the bowl was made from heavy silver, and the basin from a lighter one]; a golden spoon weighing ten shekel, filled with ketores; a young bull, a ram, and a lamb as korban olos; a kid as a chatas; and two oxen, five rams, five goats and five lambs as shelamim korbanos. [Note: Now, when you listen to the description of the korbanos donated by the nesi’im as the ba’al koreh reads it, over and over and over and over again, you will finally — admit it! — for the first time know precisely what was being brought.] And the amazing thing is that all twelve sets of offerings were exactly identical in materials, weight, numbers, and measurements!
But there is a conceptual problem with these korbanos. On the one hand, they were all identical. And the Medrash states that had one nasi added a bit to his offering, thus ruining the uniformity of these korbanos, the korban slated to be brought on Shabbos would not have been able to be brought (on Shabbos). The commentaries explain this as follows: The rule is that a necessary korban tzibbur (a korban coming as a tzibbur-offering on behalf of the public, such as, say, the korban tamid) supersedes Shabbos and may be slaughtered and burned on the Mizbeach even on Shabbos, while a private korban cannot. The fact that the korbanos of the nesi’im were identical leads us to believe that they were being brought as a korban tzibbur and, as such, could be brought on Shabbos. If one nasi were to break the uniformity of those korbanos, the korbanos would then be “exposed” as “individual” ones, and would not be able to be brought on Shabbos. That is the explanation given to the above Medrashic statement.
On the other hand, we see that each nasi was specifically assigned a particular day. Although their original intention was to bring their korbanos all together, on one day, HaShem said, No — rather (Bamidbar 7:11), “One nasi each day, one nasi each day, shall they bring their offerings for the dedication of the Mizbeach.”
Not only that, but we learn in the Medrash that each nasi had a different intention, a different kavanah, for what his specific offerings would represent. In other words, although all the offerings certainly seemed identical, in truth they were not; each nasi intended his korban to symbolize his respective tribe’s unique character. And the Medrash specifies what that was for each nasi!
Each of the tribes had been told by Yaakov Avinu of the unique role that they would serve in Klal Yisrael. And so, for example, Nachshon Ben Aminadav, from the tribe of Yehuda, knew that his tribe’s destiny would be to be the source of the monarchy for Bnei Yisrael. And so his gifts were a bowl which was shaped like the oceans, which resemble a bowl surrounding the world; a round basin which symbolized the earth; and together they were symbolic of the dominance over the seas and the earth of the monarchy. Likewise the weights and the number of korbanos reflected various aspect of malchus.
On the second day, Nesanel Ben Tzuar, the nasi of Yissachar, brought gifts symbolizing that tribe’s dedication to Torah learning. The Torah is compared to bread for it sustains the spiritual aspects of mankind, much as bread sustains the physical aspects. The Table which held the lechem hapanim had “bowls and “basins” (see Shemos 25:29). and this is what Nesanel had in mind when he brought his offerings (as well as all the other allusions that the Medrash explains for the other offerings he brought).
The tribe of Zevulun were sea merchants who used the proceeds of their commerce to form a partnership with Yissachar. By providing the material support for Yissachar, they equally divided the spiritual rewards. Here, too, the bowl represented the oceans (but represented something different than the oceans which were an allusion to Yehuda). And the basin-land allusion here represented Zevulun’s land commerce, also set up to benefit Yissachar’s learning.
And so it went for the remaining nine tribes. Each brought an offering that represented their unique involvement in Klal Yisrael, and yet those gifts “happened” to be identical to each other tribes’ gifts. Surely that must also be coming to teach us something!
Which brings us back to our original premise, with a question: Were these korbanos of a tzibbur nature (the tzibbur being the entire Klal Yisrael), brought on behalf of the tzibbur — and thus were able to be brought on Shabbos? And if so, why did each nasi have a different intention? And then why did HaShem “insist” that they bring their korbanos not as they originally intended, on the same day, but rather each on his own day?
Which is it? Tzibbur or yachid?
To be continued…