> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > Reflections

To Be Big

Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89 )

by Rabbi Yehoshua Berman

Towards the end of the parsha, we read the description of the sacrifice that the Nesi'im (Princes of the tribes) brought for the dedication of the altar. Each Nasi brought the exact same sacrifice as all the others. Nevertheless, the Torah repeats, in full detail, the description of the sacrifice for every single one of the Nesi'im!

One cannot help but be baffled by the seemingly superfluous repetition. We know that there is not even one extra letter in the Torah, not even one extra crown on a letter. What, then, is the eternal lesson that the Torah is teaching us through this detailed repetition?

Clearly, at the very least, we can observe that Hashem is making the following statement: Every single one of these sacrifices is significant to Me in of itself. Even though he may be bringing the exact same sacrifice as the others, it doesn't matter, it is uniquely significant to Me.

This is quite different than what one would tend to expect from a human being. How many bar mitzvah boys, for example, receive doubles and triples of the same gift? After the third or fourth round of opening up a thin, rectangular package that slightly indents on one side, the excitement of the new mitzvah cadet is not all that fervent. He may even sigh and mutter, "Oh great, another thank you card to write for something I don't even want."

Another phenomenon of human gift-receiving, and this one is for all you grandmas and grandpas out there (or Zeidy/Bubby, Sabba/Savta if you prefer): have you ever brought a gift to your sweet, six-year-old grandchild (or just about any age for that matter)? Did you take great care to pick out something that you know he'll just love? And let's not forget about the wrapping paper! Of course you ensured that he will have an exciting experience in discovering his newfound treasure!

"This is so cool grandma!" and off he runs, away and out of your arms and sight, to show his friends or siblings how cool his toy is.

A little bit of an anti-climactic response for you, wasn't it? You couldn't help but feel just a slight bit disappointed by his lack of reciprocating the strong feelings of love that when into your gift-giving.

Indeed, that child is doing what is to be expected of children - being childish. Instead of recognizing the gift for what it truly is - a physical manifestation and expression of the love of his grandparent - he is totally absorbed in the external trappings of the "coolness" by which materialism so powerfully woos him.

What we hope, though, is that katan zeh gadol y'hee'yeh, that this small immature (and of course innocent) child will one day become big; that he will grow not only in inches and pounds, but that he will also develop genuine maturity - that his mental understanding and emotional processing will become wiser and more sophisticated in understanding what is truly valuable and what is really meaningful.

The glaring question that each one of us "big" people have to ask ourselves, however, is "Am I truly deserving of the title 'big'? Am I actually there?"

"Ah, what a delicious repast that was my dear wife! Thank you so much." And off he goes to retire with his nightly routine of reading his favorite book.

So, what do you have to say about this loyal husband? Is he really any bigger than that six-year-old boy who ran off to show his friends how cool his new toy is? Did this husband appreciate anything more than the momentary, fleeting sensation of sumptuous delicacies coming into pleasurable contact with his taste buds? After the fact, is he aware of anything about that meal other than the slightly-less-than-comfortable feeling of fullness?

If he were truly deserving of his title "big", he would realize that a meal prepared by his devoted wife is actually an opportunity to deepen the bond that exists between them. He would realize how much effort, love, and care his wife put into that meal; how she tirelessly takes care of his needs and that they are always at the forefront of her thoughts, together with caring for his children. Every bite he would take would be an experience of truly appreciating his wife. The tastiness (or perhaps lack thereof) of the food would become almost meaningless to him as an isolated interest in of itself. Rather, he would be enraptured in taking note of how underneath every sprinkle of spice and inside every flutter of flavor lies a powerful expression of deep emotion.(1)

Indeed, maturity can very much be defined by what is wooing us in life. Are we constantly getting caught up in the external, shallow "coolness" of materialism, or are we living life's beautiful love song of rapturous joy?

This is at least one lesson that the seemingly repetitive description of the sacrifices of the Nesi'im is there to convey: Gaze not upon the external appearances, rather peer deep inside and uncover the depth that lies beyond.

Each Nasi may have brought the same physical sacrifice as all the others, but that sameness is inconsequential when one takes into consideration the depth of meaning that underlies a sacrifice. Each Nasi has his own unique emotions of devoted worship that are being expressed through his sacrifice. A sacrifice should serve as a means of expressing one's submission and worship to the Creator. A sacrifice is a vehicle through which one can express gratitude and appreciation; one can glorify Hashem's great Name in this world.

Hashem counts each sacrifice in all of its extensive detail as one would count priceless diamonds; analyzing and admiring the particular sparkle and cut of each one. True, physical objects have their point where they become just plain redundant; so much so that one can grow repulsed by them.(2) But genuine expression of love and awe - that carries eternal, inexhaustible value. Genuine worship that emanates from the heart - that is of the utmost significance. As Chazal put it, "Ha'Kadosh baruch Hu libah ba'ei, The Holy One, blessed is He, desires the heart."

Of course, the physical carrying out of one's obligations - whether between man and God or man and his fellow man - in accordance with all of the instructions and details thereof is the very basis of serving Hashem and being a good person. Without that all the love, devotion, and warm emotions in the world are worthless. Nevertheless, if one carries out these obligations in a superficial, perfunctory manner without any facet of depth and appreciation for what he is, what he is doing, for whom is he doing, and to what ultimate goal is he doing; yes, he is fulfilling his basic obligations in life , but big he is not. So, yes, a person must carry out his obligations - in all their minute, practical detail - even if he is completely devoid of any depth therein; but, if one wants to truly become big, he will strive to always add dimensions of depth and appreciation for what it is that he is doing and the life that he is living.

So this is at least one lesson we can learn from the seeming repetition - how to properly view the world and how to relate to what we do and experience in life. It is teaching us the true meaning of katan zeh gadol y'hee'yeh, the true meaning of maturity wherein one recognizes and lives the depth of purpose and meaning of one's existence.


1. Very important note: I have chosen the example of a less-than-fully-mature man because I am a man. If this idea would be expounded by a woman, I am sure she would use an example of a less-than-fully-mature woman. It is very important when reading this piece - or any other essays that address character flaws and follies - to not fall into the trap of thinking about it in terms of others and how "if only they'd improve then..." Rather, our job in this world is to always focus on the positive when it comes to others (unless, of course, there is a need to give rebuke, etc.) and think of the words of mussar only vis-a-vis oneself. A famous darshan recounted how he once gave a shiur all about being able to recognize when one has erred, and upon leaving the shiur, he witnessed one particular husband turning to his wife and saying, "Did you hear what the Rabbi said? You are wrong!" Obviously, he missed the point. We need to think of these things strictly in terms of ourselves, not in terms of others.

2. In fact, we find that when the Jewish People were sinning but continued bringing korbanos merely as a matter of rote, Hashem said, "For what do I need your abundance of korbanos?" (Yeshaya 1:11).


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