Lessons in Repetition

There’s a lot of repetition in the fifth, sixth and seventh aliyot of Parshat Naso. On every subsequent day of the inauguration of the Mishkan, each tribal leader offers a set of sacrifices on behalf of his tribe:

The one who presented his offering on the first day was Nahshon son of Amminadab of the tribe of Judah. His offering: one silver bowl weighing 130 shekels and one silver basin of 70 shekels by the sanctuary weight, both filled with choice flour with oil mixed in, for a meal offering; one gold ladle of 10 shekels, filled with incense; one bull of the herd, one ram, and one lamb in its first year, for a burnt offering; one goat for a sin offering; and for his sacrifice of well-being: two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, and five yearling lambs. That was the offering of Nahshon son of Amminadab. On the second day, Nethanel son of Zuar, chieftain of Issachar, made his offering. He presented as his offering: one silver bowl weighing 130 shekels and one silver basin of 70 shekels by the sanctuary weight, both filled with choice flour with oil mixed in, for a meal offering… (Bamidbar 7:12-19)

As we see from the verses, each leader offers the exact same sacrifices as the others. The Torah is, uncharacteristically, very wordy here. Given that each set of offerings are the same, it would have been much easier for the Torah to just record that each tribe gave the same sacrifice. Something to the effect of, “vechen asah Netanel… and Netanel did as well”, why instead all the repetition?

The Bechor Shor asks this question and provides a simple, and satisfying, solution. Each tribal leader chose by their own free will and volition to offer a set of sacrifices. God could have responded in kind by accepting all of their sacrifices on one day. True, it would have been a very busy day for the kohanim, but it could have been done. However, God decided to dedicate one day to each of the tribal leaders. Rather than have one big day for everyone, each tribe was gifted its own day to bring their sacrifices. As such, there is in fact new information presented amid all the repetition – the new day!

While a cursory read of all these verses presents much repetition, the astute reader can learn something quite profound. Look how valuable even one day is! By granting each tribe their own day, a one day inaugural event turned into a close to two week affair. Day after day of celebrations and donations marked the inauguration of the Mishkan. The repetition of the verses gives us a flavor of that time period, and perhaps more importantly an appreciation of the value of a day. Time is fleeting, and in response to the tribal leaders commitment to the Mishkan, God responded by giving them a great gift – His time.

The Bechor Shor provides a second explanation as to why the Torah is so repetitive. The contribution of each tribe needed to be highlighted. No one tribe should have the exclusive honor of being recorded as the tribe who brought sacrifices, and the other tribes relegated to just a list of, “vechen asu, and they did as well.”

There could understandably be hard feelings between the tribes if one was given preferential mention in the Torah over the others. Therefore the exact same thing was written about each of them. Again. And again.

God does not waste words in the Torah. But to be verbose to prevent jealousy and infighting among the tribes?  That’s worth it!