Parashas Naso

The last segment of this week’s parashah describes the offerings that the tribal princes brought as part of the inauguration of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). On each of the first twelve days of Nisan, one of the princes brought an offering. The first to bring his offering was Nachshon ben Aminadav, prince of the tribe of Yehudah. The Midrash expounds (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:14):
Nachshon began and brought his offering according to the order of the kingship, for Yehudah’s father Yaakov had designated him to be king over his brothers. As it is written (Bereishis 49:8-11): “Yehudah, your brothers will acknowledge you. Your hand will be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons will bow down before you. … The scepter will not depart from Yehudah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until the arrival of Shiloh [Moshiach], and unto him will be the obedience of the peoples.” … And there was a tradition in the hands of the tribe of Yehudah, their sages and leaders, passed down from our father Yaakov, regarding what would happen to each tribe up to the time of Moshiach. And similarly, there was a tradition in the hands of each tribe, passed down from Yaakov, regarding what would happen to that tribe up to the time of Moshiach.
In recounting the blessings that Yaakov gave each of his sons just before his death, the Torah states that Yaakov assembled his twelve sons together, and then goes on to relate the specific blessing that he gave to each of his sons. The Torah concludes by saying (Bereishis 49:28): “All these are the twelve tribes of Yisrael, and this is what their father spoke to them and blessed them – each one according to his blessing he blessed them.” The Maggid explains that this verse is telling us why Yaakov’s blessings to his sons were lengthy. These lengthy blessings stand in contrast with the blessings that the Torah directs the Kohanim to pronounce upon the Jewish People, as recorded in our parashah right before the account of the princes’ offerings. These blessings are brief, although they surely encompass all good things for the entire Jewish People. The Maggid sets out to elaborate on the reason for the length of Yaakov’s blessings to his sons.
Sefer Shemos begins as follows (Shemos 1:1-5): “These are the names of the sons of Yisrael, who came to Egypt with Yaakov …. Reuven, Shimon, Levi, and Yehudah; Yissachar, Zevulun, and Binyamin; Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher. And all the souls who came forth from the loins of Yaakov were seventy souls, and Yosef was in Egypt.” The Midrash remarks (Shemos Rabbah 1:7): “Although Yosef gained sovereignty, he did not pride himself over his brothers and his father’s house. Just as he was small in his eyes at the beginning, when he was a slave in Egypt, so was he small in his eyes after he became king.” This description characterizes the general attitude taken by Jewish leaders. They take no greatness for themselves, not even as much as a hairsbreadth. Indeed, they regard the eminence and honor extended to them as a burden.
Shaul HaMelech, for example, shied away from the kingship; during the ceremony in which Shmuel HaNavi was going to designate him as king, he hid himself among the baggage (Shmuel Alef 10:22). And when Aharon was annointed as Kohen Gadol, he worried that he might have improperly taken satisfaction in this honor, thereby embezzling the annointing oil (Horayos 12a). All the great Jewish leaders regarded it as a serious prohibition to derive benefit from the things of this world, from their wealth and their eminence, beyond the extent necessary for their service to Hashem. David HaMelech summed up the matter by declaring (Divrei HaYamim Alef 29:11-12): “Yours, Hashem, is the greatness, and the strength, and the splendor, and the triumph, and the glory, even everything in heaven and earth. Yours, Hashem, is the kingdom, and the sovereignty over every leader.” Here, David is saying that eminence belongs to Hashem alone.
In the same vein, Yosef attributed no eminence to himself on account of his position. Regarding Yosef, it is written (Bereishis 42:6): “Now Yosef, he was the ruler over the land; he was the one who apportioned provisions to all the people of the land.” The Torah is telling us that Yosef’s rulership over Egypt consisted solely of his being the one who apportioned provisions among the people of Egypt – in effect, he was working as a servant of the people. His attitude was exactly in line with that which the Torah would later prescribe for Jewish kings (Devarim 17:20): “… he will not become haughty toward his brethren, and will hold back from turning away from the commandments either to the right or to the left.” But we are left with a question: How did the Midrash in Shemos Rabbah see an allusion to Yosef’s humble attitude in the Torah’s simple statement that “Yosef was in Egypt”?
The Maggid builds his answer to this question on a statement that Moshe made to the Jewish People shortly before his death. Moshe declared (Devarim 29:9): “You are standing, all of you, this day before Hashem your God.” Seemingly the phrase “all of you” is superfluous, especially since Moshe goes on to list all the different segments of the Jewish People. But the phrase is needed in conjunction with what Moshe says later (ibid. 29:13-14): “Not with you alone do I make this covenant and this admonition, but with him who stands here with us this day before Hashem our God, and with him who is not here with us this day.” Moshe was saying that the covenant being made encompassed all Jews of all time, for each Jew who was physically present at the assembly represented all the future generations of Jews who would descend from him. Moshe stressed that “all of you” – all the living members of the Jewish People – were present at the time of the making of the covenant, for if any Jew were not present, the covenant would not encompass all Jews of future generations: Those who descended from the Jews who were not present would not be included.
In a similar vein, Mishnah Pesachim 10:5 states that on Seder night each Jew must see himself as if he personally went out from Egypt. For the First Commandment says (Shemos 20:2): “I am Hashem your God Who took you out of Egypt” – with the word you written in singular form. Our ability to fulfill the law in the Mishnah depends on the premise that at the time of the Exodus all the Jews in the world were subjugated in Egypt. For if there were Jews who were not subjugated in Egypt, a Jew of today might be in doubt as to whether his ancestor was among the Jews who were subjugated in Egypt or was one of those who were not. We thus have to say that Yosef, along with the rest of the seventy members of Yaakov’s family, was in some sense subjugated by Egypt. Now, since Yosef was viceroy of Egypt, it is very odd to say that he was among those subjugated. Yet, when describing Yaakov’s family at the beginning of Sefer Shemos, the Torah counts Yosef in with the rest of the family. Accordingly, the Sages were led to conclude that Yosef regarded himself as a slave for his entire stay in Egypt.
The Maggid now returns to Yaakov’s blessings to his sons. These blessings were lengthy because they encompassed all the events that would occur to his sons, and their sons, and all the actions they would take, for good or for bad, throughout all the generations. Thus, as Rashi notes in his commentary on the blessings, the blessing to Dan included a prophesy about his descendant Shimshon, and the blessing to Shimon includes a prophesy about his descendant Zimri ben Salu. The blessings that Kohanim pronounce on the Jewish People, on the other hand, are brief, since they are meant to cover only the Jews of the present generation. To reflect the far reach of Yaakov’s blessings, the Torah concludes its account of the blessings by saying: “All these are the twelve tribes of Yisrael, and this is what their father spoke to them and blessed them.” The Torah adds the word all at the beginning of this statement to indicate that Yaakov’s sons represented all the Jews who would walk the earth up to the time of Moshiach, and that Yaakov’s blessings encompassed everything they would do and everything that would happen to them. This point is emphasized in the final phrase of the Torah’s statement: “Each one according to his blessing he blessed them.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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