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וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃
נָשֹׂ֗א אֶת־רֹ֛אשׁ בְּנֵ֥י גֵרְשׁ֖וֹן
And Hashem said to Moses, saying, “Lift up the head of the sons of Gershon…” (Numbers 4:21-22)
“Nasso” (נָשׂאֹ) is an imperative verb – a command from Hashem, saying, “Lift up!” This language was employed in Hashem’s command for Moses to take a census of the sons of Gershon (the first-born of Levi) and also to highlight their specific work in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) service – carrying and safeguarding the panels and various coverings of the Mishkan.
We find this word (נָשׂאֹ) and precise spelling only twice in the Torah: here and also 20 verses prior (in Parashat Bamidbar):
נָשֹׂ֗א אֶת־רֹאשׁ֙ בְּנֵ֣י קְהָ֔ת
“Lift up the head of the sons of Kohath…” (Numbers 4:2)
In a similar fashion in Number 4:2, the sons of Kohath (the second-born of Levi) were counted and their work in the Mishkan service was highlighted – the carrying and safeguarding of the most holy vessels of the Mishkan – the Ark, Menorah, Table of Showbread, Golden Altar and the Partition.
Here we have the second-born son of Levi (Kohath) being elevated above his older brother (Gershon) to carry the most sacred vessels of the Mishkan. The Torah does not tell us why, but we have ample examples of similar brotherly elevations up to this point in Scriptures – Abel over Cain, Jacob over Esau, Judah over Reuben. In these examples, we find that it had to do with the intent of the heart – be it an offering to Hashem, desire for the birthright, or the act of repentance. Whatever the case may be as to why Kohath was elevated above Gershon for the sake of the Mishkan service, it can be deduced as something that the offspring of Kohath did that made them stand out in the eyes of Hashem.
Let’s hold that thought and return back to the word “nasso” (נָשׂאֹ). The root of the word is the same root for the word “nasi” (נָשִׂיא), meaning “prince” or “leader”. The connection is self-explanatory.
Turning to the end of the parashat in Numbers 7, we find the princes of Israel bringing offerings to inaugurate the Mishkan. Here, we find numerous references that the princes as a collective “brought near” (וַיַּקְרִיבוּ, “vayaqrivu”) these offerings in Numbers 7:2, 3, 10 and 11. The use of this word emphasizes that they brought their offerings with a sense of alacrity.
Interesting that during the construction of the Mishkan (in Parashat Terumah), it was the rest of the people that acted with such alacrity in bringing all the construction materials. Only after the people acted did the princes bring the last contributions (shoham stones and filling stones for the high priest’s garments). However, here at the inauguration of the Mishkan, it was the princes that acted with alacrity and were first with their contributions; moreover, they brought their offerings of their own volition (they were not asked to do so). All of this was done for the sake of the Mishkan. What was the purpose of the Mishkan? As Hashem said to Moses in Exodus 29:46 – “I will dwell among the people of Israel and I will be their God.” The construction of the Mishkan was to build a dwelling place for Hashem’s Presence, His Shechinah. The inauguration of the Mishkan was to welcome the Shechinah.
Each prince offered the exact same offering (Numbers 7:19-23) – 1 silver bowl and 1 basin of silver (both filled with meal offering of fine flour); 1 gold ladle (filled with incense); 1 young bull, 1 ram and 1 sheep in its first year (for an elevation-offering); 1 he-goat (for a sin-offering); and 2 cattle, 5 rams, 5 he-goats and 5 sheep in their first year (as a peace-offering). The reason their offerings were the same was to show that they were all on the same level, or atleast in terms of appearance.
However, there are two notable factors that differentiated the princes from each other:  there was a particular order for each of the princes to bring their offerings; and  the intent of their hearts.
First, the order of the princes. The order was chosen based on the order of the nation’s journeys in the Wilderness and their camp positions (beginning in the East and moving in a clockwise direction around the Mishkan). Below, you can see that the order of the tribes differed from the first record of the sons of Jacob according to their births in Genesis 29, 30 and 35.
What is worth notable mention is that Judah (fourth-born to Jacob) was elevated to first in the order of offerings by the princes. This is in connection to Judah’s elevation to a position of leadership and kingship over the Nation of Israel (see Jacob’s blessing for Judah in Genesis 49). However, this was not brought about just because Jacob granted Judah his blessing to that end. Judah and his descendants had to do their part – they had to prove themselves worthy of this position.
How did Judah prove himself worthy of kingship? We need to go back to the account of Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38 for the full story). Upon finding out that he was responsible for impregnating Tamar, rather than follow through on killing her for her adultery and keeping the matter secret, he confessed his actions and returned to his father Jacob’s camp. He humbled himself and repented. Later on, when Judah and his brothers were brought before the Egyptian viceroy (unbeknownst to them, it was Joseph their brother), Judah went forward in an act of humility to speak to the viceroy on behalf of his younger brother Benjamin (full story starting at Genesis 44:16). Yet, Judah’s words were bold and authoritative. Judah was displaying qualities that were essential for the future kingship of Israel – and humility was a critical one.
Fast-forward to the princes in this week’s parashat, and the first prince to present his offering was Nachshon, prince of Judah. Pay close attention to the language in the verses.
וַיְהִ֗י הַמַּקְרִ֛יב בַּיּ֥וֹם הָרִאשׁ֖וֹן אֶת־קָרְבָּנ֑וֹ נַחְשׁ֥וֹן בֶּן־עַמִּינָדָ֖ב לְמַטֵּ֥ה יְהוּדָֽה׃
“The one bringing his offering on the first day was Nachshon son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah.” (Numbers 7:12)
Compare Nachshon to Nethanel, prince of Issachar (who came second):
בַּיּוֹם֙ הַשֵּׁנִ֔י הִקְרִ֖יב נְתַנְאֵ֣ל בֶּן־צוּעָ֑ר נְשִׂ֖יא יִשָּׂשכָֽר׃
“On the second day, Nethanel son of Zuar, prince of Issachar, offered.” (Numbers 7:18)
And next, Zebulun (the same language remained the same for the remaining princes):
בַּיּוֹם֙ הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֔י נָשִׂ֖יא לִבְנֵ֣י זְבוּלֻ֑ן אֱלִיאָ֖ב בֶּן־חֵלֹֽן׃
“On the third day, the prince of the children of Zebulun, Eliab son of Helon." (Numbers 7:24)
First, there is no mention of Nachshon’s title (“prince”), but rather that he was just “of the tribe of Judah”. Second, the mention of Nachshon’s offering came before the mention of his name. And third, is the use of the Hebrew verb for “bringing near” the offering. The first two comments allude to Nachshon’s elevated level of humility. He was undoubtedly resembling the actions of his forefather Judah. Let’s unpack the third comment. As highlighted earlier, the Hebrew word for “brought near” is “וַיַּקְרִיבוּ” (“vayaqrivu”) and was used for the collective of princes – it is an intensely active verb in the past tense. For Nachshon, exclusively, the word “הַמַּקְרִיב” (“hamaqriv”) is used – also an intensely active verb, but in the present tense. By “intensely active verb”, this is highlighting an act of alacrity… of increased intensity relative to the other princes. Issachar also features the same intensely active verb but in the past tense; otherwise, the rest of the princes do not feature the use of this verb.
What is this telling us? All of the princes acted with a level of alacrity in bringing their offerings before the Altar as a collective group – this was not requested of them and they did it of their own volition. However, on an individual level, it was Nachshon and Issachar who stood out amongst the princes – their offerings were brought with a greater level of alacrity that came from the heart. And furthermore, it was Nachshon who stands out on yet a higher level – due to his elevated level of humility. Moreover, the present tense of “bringing near” speaks of his actions as a constant state of mind – serving Hashem was a continual pursuit in his mind and his heart.
Fast-forward to David HaMelech of the tribe of Judah, the youngest of 7 brothers, a lowly shepherd tending to his father’s flocks, and the least likely candidate for kingship over Israel. Yet, Hashem had His eye on David, “a man after His Own heart” due to his humility and servant mindset.
Fast-forward one last time to Yeshua HaMashiach, also a descendant of Judah and of the lineage of David HaMelech. Yeshua also characterized an intense level of humility and servitude to Hashem throughout His life, but with one notable difference. Just as Nachshon stood out amongst the princes, Yeshua displayed a level of alacrity that separated Himself from those before him – He offered up the ultimate sacrifice, that of His own life. What greater offering can one offer?
In Ephesians 5:2, Paul explained to the Ephesians that Yeshua “brought near” Himself as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to Hashem:
וְהִתְהַלְּכוּ בְּאַהֲבָה כַּאֲשֶׁר גַּם־הַמָּשִׁיחַ אָהַב אֹתָנוּ וְהִקְרִיב אֶת־נַפְשׁוֹ
בַּעֲדֵנוּ לְקָרְבָּן וָזֶבַח לֵאלֹהִים לְרֵיחַ נִיחוֹחַ׃
“And walk in love, as Mashiach loved us and [brought near] Himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to Elohim.” (Ephesians 5:2)
In Mark 10:43-44, Yeshua highlighted to His disciples the importance of servitude:
כִּי אִם־הֶחָפֵץ לִהְיוֹת גָּדוֹל בָּכֶם יִהְיֶה לָכֶם לִמְשָׁרֵת׃
וְהֶחָפֵץ לִהְיוֹת הָרֹאשׁ יִהְיֶה עֶבֶד לַכֹּל׃
“For whoever desires to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever desires to be the head, he will be a slave to all.” (Mark 10:43-44)
Yeshua offered the greatest sacrifice one can offer, ultimately so that the entire world may come into the knowledge of Hashem. What an act of self-sacrifice! If we look to Yeshua as our point of salvation, we need to be replicating Him in every way possible. If there is one attribute we need to hone in on, it is Yeshua’s humility. We need to learn to replicate His example of self-sacrifice in our entire beings – in thought, in intention and in action. May we do this with a constant state of mind with our focus on our service to Hashem.