Same Song, Twelfth Verse: Naso 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Leadoff Chatter: How do we respond to last week’s mass shooting in Orlando while also observing the one-year anniversary of the murder of nine people at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston? How are these massacres similar? How are they different? In spite of the differences between the two, does it feel that recent history is simply repeating again and again? In our Torah portion this week, we encounter a far less tragic event that repeats almost verbatim 12 times. The purpose of these repetitions are instructive to our recent cycle of violence.

The Pitch: “Adonai said to Moses: Let them present their offerings for the dedication of the altar, one chieftain each day.” (Numbers 7:11) 

Swing #1: “Scholars noted that the same practice can be found in archival material throughout the ancient Near East, and in particular in instances such as this where sacrifices or cultic practices are described. A host of Babylonian and Hittite texts parallel the basic style of the account in Numbers 7:12-88. The point is: We moderns should not judge this text too hastily in light of our own expectations. Every culture has its own conventions, in art, literature, and so on. The culture of the ancient Near East, of which ancient Israel was an integral part, obviously called for this type of accounting, without the ‘shortcut’ that we might expect.” – Prof. Gary A. Rendsburg, “He Presented as his Offering: Repetition in the Bible”, from A Divinely Given Torah for Our Day and Age, Volume II 

Swing #2: “Seeing that the offerings of the princes were all identical and in the same amount, why should the Scripture mention the offerings of each prince separately? Because each of them brought his offering of his own accord, not in order to show up the others, but solely of his own free will.” – The Rabbi of Przysucha 

Swing #3: “Why did the princes hasten to come and sacrifice first, when at the time of the erecting of the tabernacle, the had procrastinated and finally were only (able to bring) onyx and precious stones? Because when Moses had said, ‘Everyone whose heart moves him shall bring a donation for the Lord’ (Exodus 35:5), toward the building of the tabernacle, they were disturbed because they had not been specifically asked to bring a donation. They said, ‘Let the people bring whatever they want, and we will fill in the deficit.’ (However,) the people were so enthusiastic about the construction of the tabernacle that they brought all their donations freely and speedily. … After two days, when the princes were just about to bring their donation, they could not, since all that was needed had already been supplied by the hoi polloi. Therefore, the princes were very dejected at not having had a share in the construction of the tabernacle. – Numbers Rabbah 

Late-Inning Questions: What, according to our commentaries, are the possible reasons for listing each identical gift of every prince? What do we learn from such repetition? Do we sometimes require events to happen over and over again before we are compelled to break the cycle? What have we learned in the past year since the tragedy at Emanuel AME? Does the fact that similar shootings keep happening mean that our society is slow to learn the lessons of last year? Or can last week’s tragedy in Orlando finally provide the motivation we need to stand up against the NRA once and for all? 

On Deck at Emanu-El: One of my goals this summer is to make our Adult Education program to reach as many people as possible. Our most recent congregational survey told us that the vast majority of our congregation wishes to learn more about our Jewish heritage, yet only a small percentage attend our classes. I’d like to fix that by offering classes that interest YOU at times that are convenient for YOU. To that end, I invite you to attend one of our upcoming Adult Education Parlor Meetings to share your thoughts about how and when you’d like to learn with us. These meetings will take place Wednesday, June 22nd at 6:00PM; and Sunday, June 26th at 10:00AM. We had a lovely discussion at our first parlor meeting yesterday, and I look forward to hearing more! 

The Big Inning at the End: No baseball remarks this week; instead, let’s dedicate this Shabbat to the memory of victims of gun violence, and to our efforts to change gun policies to make tragedies like these far more rare. 

Shabbat Shalom!