THOUGHT FOR SHAVUOT AND PARSHAT NASSO 5780
BY RABBI CHAIM FACHLER
I plan to discuss the celebration of Shavuot in the pre-Chag Zoom event in more detail, as well as at the end of this Thought. But Parshat Nasso, which here in Israel is read this Shabbat, immediately after Shavuot, is the longest Parsha in the Torah and deserves more than just a mention.
Nasso concludes with a listing of the gifts brought by the twelve Princes of the twelve tribes upon the completion of the Mishkan in the desert. Each Prince, or Nasi, brought very specific offerings during the twelve days of the inauguration. Rashi offers an extensive explanation of the symbolic significance of each item.
The Netziv asks a question about this process. Although each Nasi brought gifts as the representative of his tribe, the Princes were only appointed by HaShem one month later, on the first day of Iyar! If Hashem had not yet named the leaders, how were they authorised to represent their constituents?
The Netziv explains that these leaders were initially chosen by their own tribes and represented them at the dedication ceremony as democratically chosen Princes. Only after the People had accepted them did HaShem give his divine approval to the choices and allowed them to continue their role. In other words, these were true representatives of the People. They were elected because of the collective recognition within each tribe that they were the greatest among them.
In the Parsha, eleven of these twelve princes are referred to by their title "Nasi", except for the very first prince – Nachshon ben Aminadav of the tribe of Yehudah. Why does the Torah omit Nachshon ben Aminadav’s honoured title? The Netziv reminds us that Aharon had married Nachshon’s sister, Elisheva. On the very first day of the Mishkan’s dedication – the same day that Nachshon was scheduled to give his offering – two of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, died inside the Mishkan itself. Accordingly, the day of Nachshon’s offering was coupled with an intense personal grief over the fate of his nephews. Because of this grief, he did not want to display the regal grandeur associated with his princely status. For this reason, he was, in a sense, devoid of his title on this day, and only reacquired it when his grief eventually ebbed.
Had the Netziv not asked these questions, would we have noticed that something was wrong with the narrative the Torah tells us? Probably not. So how important is it really to delve so deep into the basic explanation of the text? The answer is: very important. Which brings us to the entire concept of Torah SheBaal Peh – the Oral Law. As Shavuot fast approaches, apart from the other celebrations of Bikurim and cheesecake, we need to focus on the main topic – Matan Torah – HaShem gifting to us, His People, His most precious possession. This is Chag Matan Torah. We remember and celebrate the fact that HaShem chose us – exclusively – to receive His Holy Torah.
But the Torah is multi-faceted. There’s narrative, Mitzvot, moral messages and much more. And no-one, but no-one can claim to understand the Written Law – Torah Shebichtav – without the Torah SheBaal Peh, which also given at Mount Sinai to Moshe, to teach the Children of Israel (us!). Every generation from then on produced leaders and teachers who passed on this knowledge to their children and students, until the present day. And with every generation, as the spiritual level decreased, more and more questions were asked, needing more and more explanations. When Moshe taught this Parsha to Joshua, I doubt if Joshua asked “Hey, why didn’t you call Nachshon a Nasi?” He didn’t need to ask.
The Oral Law continues to grow with every generation, which is cause for great celebration. The fact that the original Holy Torah given to us by HaShem Himself, is enhanced and expanded by mere mortals who dedicate themselves to providing the rest of us how to fully understand it, is a principal cause for celebrating Shavuot – Chag Matan and Talmud Torah.
Chag Sameach, Shabbat Shalom, and stay healthy and safe,