This week’s Parsha is the longest Parsha in the Torah, weighing in at a whopping 176 verses. [It is interesting to note that the longest tractate in the Talmud is Bava Basra which ends on page 176, and the longest chapter in the book of Tehilim is chapter 119 which has exactly 176 verses.] Approximately twenty years ago I was at a Bar Mitzvah in the Young Israel of Buffalo, NY. The Bar Mitzvah boy, Joel Danziger, had very memorable opening remarks to his Bar Mitzvah speech. He related his reaction when his Bar Mitzvah teacher informed him that he had the good fortune to have the longest Parsha of the Torah; he exclaimed “Say it’s not-so (Nasso)!”
Perhaps the greatest contributing factor to the length of Parshas Nasso is the gifts of the N’siim/tribal leaders in the end of the Parsha. All of the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel brought the exact same gift upon the inauguration of the Tabernacle. Instead of listing the first gift in detail and then continuing to record that each of the remaining eleven brought a gift identical to the first one, the Torah lists every single gift in full detail again, and again, and again. Then, to top it all off, the Torah repeats the sum total of all the gifts, as if the reader is incapable of basic arithmetic.
I have read plenty of books that were written with little concern of wasting words, but the Torah is not one of them. The Torah is the word of G-d and contains depth and meaning in every nuance and subtlety. There are many laws that are very significant to practical Jewish living which are derived by even the slightest addition or subtraction of a letter. Every extra word of the Torah has been examined and explained by our Sages and scholars throughout the ages. This leaves us to wonder, what happened here? Why does Hashem’s precise and concise Torah repeat the same gift twelve times, word for word?
The Ramban offers two explanations, both of which contain meaningful messages for us.
The Ramban’s first interpretation is that each of the tribal leaders was given the honor of having their own day to give their gift. This required a specific order; someone would have to be first. In order not to lessen the honor of the subsequent Nisi’im, the Torah repeated the gift of each and every one of the twelve Nisi’im. Then, to make it clear that they were all equally special, the Torah concludes with the group total. The message for us is clear: If Hashem Himself can add many verses to His Torah out of sensitivity to the honor of the Nisi’im, certainly we can spend a few extra minutes and a few extra words to provide the proper sensitivity to others.
The Ramban’s second answer is that all twelve Nisi’im brought the exact same gift, with all the exact same items, in the exact same measure. Nonetheless, each and every one of the twelve Nisi’im had unique intentions; they were each expressing their own meaning that correlated with the essence of their tribe. The Ramban cites two different Midrashim that describe the significance of every detail, even the numeric value of the names of each of the gifts.
This is why the Torah repeats every single one of the twelve gifts, to express that though they were identical in their physical make-up, in reality they were twelve entirely different gifts. To Hashem, the physical make-up and value of a gift is not all that matters; rather, it is the thought that counts. After listing all twelve gifts, the Torah groups them together to teach us that all twelve Nisi’im came up with their gifts simultaneously, and they all brought them at the same time.
This explanation of the Ramban also teaches us a powerful lesson: In the eyes of Hashem, two actions or two gifts that look identical to the naked eye may very well be totally different. In Hashem’s world, our actions are defined by our intentions, our thoughts and meaning. Every deed we do is elevated and enhanced by every ounce of added kavanah/intention. May Hashem help us to overcome the challenge of doing mitzvos by rout, and always serve Him with thoughtfulness, passion, and meaning.