Details Count by Dr. Joel M. Berman


The Torah is concise, precise, and abbreviated. We often must deduce the hidden meanings behind seemingly ordinary things. With that in mind, why does Parashat Naso invest 71 Pesukim in the remarkably detailed description of the seemingly identical gifts brought by the princes of the twelve tribes? The Torah could have merely stated that the twelve princes brought twelve identical gifts on twelve consecutive days, thus shortening the Parashah a great deal.

It is Erev Shabbat, and in a few hours, we will eat Challah dipped in salt. Table salt is, of course, sodium chloride (NaCl). Unlike genetics, molecules have no memory of their parent atoms. Indeed, sodium is an explosive and poisonous metal, and chlorine is a gas used in World War I and later by Saddam Hussein (Yemach Shemo) to kill and maim thousands of human beings. How do these two atoms make peace? Sodium simply releases an electron which chlorine incorporates. How big is this mighty electron peacemaker?  pounds! Little things matter.

If someone picked up a copy of the Babylon Times approximately 3300 years ago, the headlines might have went: “Babylon Defeats the Assyrian Infantry,” or “The Athenians Sink the Spartan Navy,” or “Nimrod Completes His New Castle.” Perhaps a very small article tucked away in the back of the newspaper might have a few words mentioning the comings and goings of our Avot HaKedoshim, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov. Some 3300 years later, the aforementioned headlines, as important as they were at the time, have very little meaning. Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov, however, injected an enduring moral compass into the world. The little events mattered.

In the middle of the twentieth century, the Soviet Empire would often announce five-year plans. These were grand schemes to modernize an otherwise rather primitive country. Other than the destruction of whole societies and hundreds of thousands of people, little was ever accomplished. To the Soviets, individuals meant nothing; only the empire mattered. By stark contrast, Jews regard the individual with the greatest importance. After all, we are the descendants, both spiritually and genetically, of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov. Perhaps that is why we place our Rabbei’im at the pinnacle of our society. They are the builders of individuals.  

The offerings of the princes were not identical. The Torah, by spending six Pesukim describing each of the twelve offerings, sends us a powerful message. Many of our deeds seem repetitive and redundant, such as Tefillah, Berachot, and Tefillin. However, if we pay attention and put our minds to it, each Tefillah and each Berachah, in a way, is different from all of the previous ones. The Torah, known for its brevity, describes each gift brought by each prince of the twelve tribes in order to demonstrate that details count.

Birkat Kohanim by Moshe Davis

Tikkun Leil Shavuot by Tzvi Rotblat