Everyone who reads this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Naso, cannot help but notice the repetition in the description of the sacrifices the Nesi’im brought. In honor of the inauguration of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the leaders of each of the twelve tribes brought the same set of sacrifices, each on his own designated day. The Torah does not suffice with detailing the offerings of the first tribe and then telling us that the others did the same. Instead, it goes through the details of each tribe’s offering, one by one. This calls for our attention.
The Torah uses its words sparingly, and never elaborates unnecessarily. Why indeed did the Torah find the need to repeat the same offerings twelve times?
The Ramban on Parshas Naso reveals a fascinating insight: It is in order to offer proper respect to each of the representatives of the tribes. Had the Torah described just the offerings of the first one and merely said afterwards, “And so did the rest of the Nesi’im,” it would be lacking in attributing full honor to the others. In order to offer prime honor to each of the Nesi’im, the Torah went out of its way to repeat the same sacrifices again and again.
Rabbi Yechezkel Levinstein (Ohr Yechezkel, Midos p. 119) derives from here an awesome lesson in giving respect. Certainly, any mention in the Torah of the Nesi’im’s deeds would be a tremendous honor, even if given collectively. Nevertheless, The Torah would not suffice with this. The Torah makes a point to write at great length about each Nasi separately, in order to afford high honor to each of them.
We see from here what kind of significance the Torah attributes to making sure to respect others. Obviously, we too are obligated to go to great lengths to respect others, and certainly to avoid shaming someone.
A rabbi of a certain town once issued a ruling regarding some matter. There were some people in the town who realized that the ruling contradicted the opinion of the Shach (a universally accepted Torah authority) and figured that the rabbi must have forgotten about it. In order to make a point, they plotted to expose the rabbi’s incompetence. They dispatched an innocent-looking letter to the leading authority at the time, Rabbi Yitzchok Elchonon Spector, asking him for his opinion about the ruling.
They expected Rabbi Spector to disagree with the ruling based on the commentary of the Shach, and use it as proof to undermine the qualifications of the local rabbi. Rabbi Spector, however, sensed with his cleverness the true intentions of the people who sent him the question, and devised a plan to foil their plot. He sent back a response in which he fully concurred with the ruling of their esteemed rabbi. The townspeople were taken aback. How could it possibly be? How could the great Rabbi of Kovno, Rabbi Yitzchok Elchonon Spector, overlook a Shach?
A few hours later, another telegram arrived from Kovno. The telegram was from Rabbi Spector and it read as follows: “I hereby retract my first ruling. I realized that the Shach says otherwise.” In order to uphold the honor of the local rabbi, Rabbi Yitzhock Elchonon Spector, known as one of the greatest rabbis at that time, deliberately made it seem as if he too forgot the opinion of the Shach. This would seem to be a terribly embarrassing mistake for someone of his stature. Nevertheless, out of his great concern for the dignity of another person, he made it seem as if even he could make such a mistake, all the while ensuring that the correct ruling was ultimately delivered.
As we learn from Parshas Naso, respect is as vital for the soul’s sustenance as food is for the human body. Just as we would not tolerate letting a person starve of hunger, we must not overlook a person’s innate need for respect. As Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner once counseled someone who sought his advice in how to cheer up a depressed friend, “Give him a heaping plate of food and a heaping trayful of honor.”
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon in today’s society to see the opposite trend. People can be seen going to great lengths to expose a person’s mistakes in order to undermine his stature. We must keep far away from such attitudes. As the Torah set an example for us, we should do our best to go out of our way to give as much respect as possible to others. Instead of focusing on a person’s shortcomings, we should be looking to see how we can shower praise upon someone, and do whatever we can to keep a person’s honor held high.
By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (email@example.com)