May 16, 2010

Naso: Prayer Links

Toward the close of parashat Naso, twelve princes bring identical gifts as a dedication offering for the tabernacle (Bamidbar/Numbers 7:10 – 88). Twelve times, the same five verses, with minor variations of the “mail-merge” sort at the open and close, appear:

The one who presented his offering on the {INSERT: ORDINAL} day was {INSERT: NAME} son of {INSERT: FATHER} of the tribe of {INSERT: TRIBE}. His offering: one silver bowl weighing 130 shekels, and one silver basin of 70 shekels by the sanctuary weight, both filled with choice flour with oil mixed in, for a meal offering; one gold ladle of 10 shekels, filled with incense; one bull of the herd, one ram, and one lamb in its first year, for a burnt offering; one goat for a sin offering; and for his sacrifice of well-being: two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, and five yearling lambs. That was the offering of {INSERT: NAME} son of {INSERT: FATHER}.
Bamidbar/Numbers 12-17, 18-23, 24-29, 30-35, 36-41, 42-47, 48-53, 54-59, 60-65, 66-71, 72-77 and 78-82


Rabbi Elliot Kleinman addresses this repetition in “His Own Unique Gift”:*

If every word of the Torah has meaning, why should it devote so many verses to the same thing — the same identical offering, brought by each of the tribal heads–over and over again?

…Could it be that although the gifts appear the same, there was something different about each one? The midrash suggests that there was one critical difference in each prince’s offering brought to the tabernacle. Each prince had a different motivation for bringing the gift. Each prince had endowed his gift with a meaning that was unique to him and to his needs at the moment (Bemidbar Rabbah 13:14-14:18).

True, the outward form of practice was indistinguishable, one from the other. But, for each prince, the meaning was wholly and completely unique….

…it may be that the traditional forms of service — Torah, avodah (worship), and gemilut chasidim (acts of kindness) — are all we need. To the casual observer, it may seem that traditional rituals, practices and opportunities for participation only present us with a dull sameness, year after year. Yet, if we endow each moment, each ritual, each opportunity with our unique history and our unique hopes and dreams, then each Jewish act becomes a real gift.
— pp.206-207


Kleinman concludes: “The sacred is not to be found in the appearance of the act of spirituality but in the spirit we bring to the act.”


Sometimes, however, the appearance of an act of worship says a great deal about “the spirit we bring” to it….or at least about the struggles within the various movements of Judaism to understand that act. The Birkat Kohanim/Priestly Blessing is one act over which there have long been such struggles.

——————
*IN The Modern Men’s Torah Commentary. See Source Materials for full citation and more details. NOTE: The above material is not part of the preview at Google Books (more encouragement to borrow or buy this volume).
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FOR THE CONVENIENCE OF SUBSCRIBERS here are links to some previous notes on the portion Naso.

Bamidbar: A Path to Follow (regarding redemption of the first born and mourning for infants less than 30 days of age)

A mystery story, a contemporary ritual and a song related to this week’s portion.

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. In the 1970s I took a course at UC Santa Cruz called, “The Anthropology of Religion.” The instructor arranged it so that students could choose to write the final from an anthropological focus on world religions, or as a religious focus on anthropological studies. We studied many different religions and world views, with the core idea that all people need an ethos or world view to understand, endure, and integrate life experiences. He was a former priest who had realized that his religious world view was not the only one after all. That happened when he found himself doing a mission to convince some native people to be vaccinated by telling them that diseases were caused by germs, not possession by evil spirits. When they wanted him to explain the difference he found himself saying things that only made the two different explanations sound very similar. Germs got into people and made them sick. The vaccination would help them fight off the germs, etc. He suddenly how his culture and their culture had found ways to explain disease to themselves and cope with it. He began to see his role as arrogant in the extreme, because it dismissed their cultural views outright. Ultimately he left the priesthood. I hope to remember or rediscover his name. One of the books we read in his class was “The Sorrow of the Lonely and the Burning of the Dancers.”

    I’m thinking about the possibilities of approaches to tefilah from talmud Torah, or approaching Torah study from experiences with prayers. Of course we pray for understanding and we study prayer, but it’s not that cut and dried. Sometimes we can get an amazing insight into a prayer from a study text, and that changes our experience of the prayer. Some people find it easier to study than to pray; others are more drawn to prayer than study. Perhaps they could benefit from approaching the one that is more difficult for them from the point of view of the one that is more comfortable for them.

    Reply

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ancient ritual, Bamidbar, spiritual practice

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