Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
This week we read Parashat Naso, which happens to be the longest parasha of the Torah. This is partly due to the fact that parashat Naso also contains the longest chapter of the whole Torah. Indeed, Numbers chapter 7 is 89 verses long!
What do we find in the longest chapter of the Torah? This chapter tells us that on the day when Moses had finished setting up the Tabernacle and sanctified and anointed it, the heads of the tribes (the nesiim, the “chieftains of Israel”) brought offerings before God. These offerings included money, animals, flour, incense, gold, and silver.
Each head of their tribe brought an identical offering to the others. Surprisingly, the Torah tells in detail the offering brought by each one of the twelve leaders, even when each offering was identical to the previous one! Since we know that it is not the way of the Torah to include unnecessary, redundant words, why did the Torah tell in detail each offering? Why not just describe one of them and then simply say that the rest of the heads of the tribes brought exactly the same offering?
The sages explain that no head of the tribe imitated the other ones. Even when each one brought the same offering as the others; each one was unique to the person who brought it. Each one had a different intention and put a different meaning in his offering.
We can learn many lessons from this rather simple interpretation by the rabbis. One important lesson is that, although sometimes we tend to look at a group of people as being identical, that impression is usually wrong. When we know people better and deeper, we are able to understand how each one is different and unique.
We are likely to terribly misjudge people if we judge them only by their appearance or by other external signs, without knowing them or appreciating how different and unique everyone really is.
The brutal death of George Floyd by law enforcement last week, reminded everybody how the American people still, sadly, struggles with racism and discrimination. Racism is still embedded within American law enforcement and its justice system, seen in social inequality and in many other social fields, sometimes in explicit ways, sometimes in more subtle ways. The horrific events of this past week opened the eyes of millions of people for whom racism was not easy to see or admit. For many, this is the time to fight racism and put an end to it.
Fighting racism is an enterprise that requires multiple efforts on many different levels. One skill we must certainly develop is the lesson from this week’s parasha. We must stop seeing entire groups of people as if they were all the same. We must stop judging people only by the way they look or by “the offerings they bring.” We need to greatly improve our ability to know and judge people beyond their appearance, social status, or any other external sign. We need to engage in social dialogue not only with those who are “like us,” but also with those who are not like us. We need to discover that every human being, independently of what racial or religious group he/she belongs to, is unique and different. Even when it is hard for many of us to see it, we all bring unique gifts to this world, that must be respected and appreciated.
May the Torah inspire us this week to avoid misjudging people by appearance or misconceptions and help us fight the sad racism that still inhabits our society.