A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ post by Rebecca Masinter
Numbers 6:22-27 includes the timeless instruction from God to the Priests to bless the Jewish people. The blessing begins with the word “Yevarechecha,” “May [God] bless you,” and end with the words, “v’yasem lecha shalom,” “and He should put peace upon you”. Ancient Jewish wisdom points out to us that shalom, peace, is the ultimate blessing.
Without peace, all other blessings are meaningless. So the other blessings add and add up until finally they finish off with a blessing for peace, the ultimate blessing. After that there is nothing more for which to ask.
The Kli Yakar, one transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom, tells us that the reason the inauguration of the altar, where each Prince brought offerings for his tribe, follows immediately after the Priestly blessing is because this section of the Torah hints deeply to Shalom as well.
When the Torah describes the first offering brought by Nachshon the son of Aminadav of the tribe of Judah, the verse begins with the letter “vav” which means “and”. “V’karbano…” “and his sacrifice was”… Beginning with “and” implies that there was one before his, even though there wasn’t! This,, said the Kli Yakar, is to take away any desire for him to claim, “I was first”. He is not announced with fanfare as the first. On the contrary, the sentence begins with “and” suggesting that he is one of many!
What’s more, when Nachshon is introduced as the first one to bring the sacrifice, the Torah doesn’t describe him as a prince or leader of Judah. He is announced without his position. This, too, is to stop him from feeling pride in his leadership role at this point, but rather at one with everyone else.
Even more, the Torah repeats over and over each Prince’s sacrifice, even though they were identical! The Torah could have listed the first sacrifice and then said, “And they all brought the same as Nachshon”. Instead, the Torah goes out of its way by many, many verses, so as not to make any one prince seem more or less important than another. Each of their identical sacrifices were described in detail, for the sake of shalom.
Putting one person above another person, or one person feeling above another one, is antithetical to shalom. In that case, why didn’t the Torah just say, ‘All the princes brought a sacrifice, and this is what they each brought’? Why the lengthy descriptions for each one?
Shalom is not when all differences are erased and everyone is identical. Shalom is when everyone is respected for who they are and what they do, and not made to feel secondary or lesser than anyone else. The Torah goes out of its way to not make the first person to bring sacrifices feel any greater, or for each of the other men to feel any less. They are each given detailed recognition and respect, not ranked or compared. Even bringing exactly the same thing; each prince imprinted his own personal essence on the gift.
What is the message for us? I think there is a truth here that we all can internalize in our own way; comparisons obstruct shalom. Think for a minute about how good we feel when we finally make it to the end of a long Friday and are ready to greet Shabbat. Everything is prepared, the house is clean, the kids are dressed, we’re dressed. I light the candles and feel so good that I made it! And then, maybe a little voice pops into my heads… “Big deal. Thousands of Jewish women also managed to get ready for Shabbat today. They probably even did it better than me.” I had a moment of recognition for my hard work and I dashed it with comparisons.
We can also apply this concept to our children. Each child deserves to be recognized and honored for who they are, not for who they are relative to anyone else. When our child accomplishes something we celebrate it, we don’t inform them at what age their sibling did the same thing. Shalom comes when everyone stands independently, not feeling second or third to anyone else.
This is a good time for us to be aware of this concept. We have been self-contained within our families for a long while and each family did its own thing. There wasn’t much opportunity to look at anyone else and compare anything. Now that our communities are (perhaps?) opening up, the challenge of comparisons is going to come out to attack us. Perhaps this section is a reminder for us to recognize and respect everyone in our orbit, ourselves included, without looking to compare. Each person, each family, is uniquely wonderful and special on their own. No comparisons necessary!