A short but intriguing musing this week, having dealt with other themes in Naso previously (Bitter Waters-5760, The Fourth Fold (of the 3-fold blessing-5759), and being short on time today having been the last day of school where I teach.
You know, it's pretty popular, almost politically correct to decry and denounce the plethoric presence of plaques placed prominently in shuls, synagogues, sanctuaries and other centers of Jewish life, living and worship. After all, we are taught that giving anonymously is a higher virtue. Yet Jewish buildings abound with dedicatory inscriptions. Some building are even named for their major benefactors. Federations and synanogues send out their yearly acknowledgements listing all the contributors, sometimes egalitarian and sometimes defined by "levels" of giving.
I'll admit it. I am one of those who scorns at the practice. Maybe it's because I know I'll never really be able to afford it myself except on a very limited scale, but mostly it seems so ostentatious and vain.
Well, I love it when Torah challenges one of my cherished values. And challenge it parashat Naso certainly does. We have here a complete description of the gifts brought by the heads of the tribes and clans to the dedication of the mishkan.
77 verses of this parasha are dedicated to a description of the gifts and offering brought by the clan chieftans and Nachshon (who alone is not called chieftan, perhaps,as the rabbis tell us, so he would not be overly prideful at being the first to be assigned that honor.) The offerings are effectively identical, so why, one wonders, does the Torah painstakingly recount each chieftan's presentation? Scholars suggest a literary device, while the rabbis and other sages offer a range of more mystical or psychological explanations. That's a discussion I might take up at some future time.
My focus is not on the fact that each chieftan's identical gift is carefully secribed in details, but rather that the description of the gifts are there at all. It just brought me up short and made me rethink my automatic rejection of the idea of public recongition for support so prominent in our society, and in Judaism nowadays. And that, for me, is the joy of reading Torah. If I read Torah regularly, it won't allow me to become complacent and dogmatic in my views, for each time I open it and turn its pages something new will reveal itslef and challenege some belief or perception of mine.
I'm still troubled by the prevalence of plaques and other forms of recognition that adorn our institutions and houses of worship, but I can no longer accept a blanket condemnation, or simply assume they are a bad and ostentatious thing. I must temper my judgment with these insights from Torah.
Thanks, Gd, for this gift to keep me mentally on my toes at all times.
© 2001 by Adrian A. Durlester
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