Naso: The 614th Commandment

By Ilana Grinblat

Published May 21, 2010.
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My friend Orley took my daughter Hannah to the park. Hannah showed her the two ways to climb up to the slide — one which only has a few steps and one that has monkey-bars. Hannah explained that she goes up the few steps and isn’t big enough to climb the monkey-bars. “I’m just a little bit big.” She said, “I’m three. I don’t want to get bigger. I like being three.” Orley was impressed by Hannah’s peacefulness with the stage that she is in.

I wish I could say the same. I’ve been sick this week, and I’d love to fast forward until I feel well again. I’m in the middle of a couple professional projects that I wish were done already. I can’t make the moment of completion come any sooner than it will, but in the meantime I have an abiding sense of frustration.

In this week’s Torah portion, the people finally conclude a project that they’ve been working on for a long time — the tabernacle, the portable sanctuary for use on their desert journey. When Moses completed the final preparations for use of the tabernacle, the chiefs of each tribe presented gifts for the tabernacle — one per day. The gifts by each of the chiefs were identical and incredibly specific; the weight and worth of each donated item is elaborated. Therefore the same paragraph describing this gift repeats twelve times. (This week was my bat mitzvah portion, and I practiced that paragraph so many times I could recite it in my sleep!)

I wonder why the Torah which is usually extremely concise repeats the same paragraph 12 time. Instead the paragraph could have just been written once with a sentence stipulating that the same offering was given by each of the chiefs on the subsequent 11 days. Or better yet, all the gifts could have been given on the same day!

Perhaps, by specifying the offering for each day, the Torah subtly makes the point that each gift is equally worthwhile. Each tribe had its own special moment. Rather than grouping the days together, the Torah notes that each day has its own blessings.

The same point is made by the counting of the Omer — the seven weeks leading up to the holiday of Shavuot (which we celebrated this week). These weeks were a period of intense anticipation for farmers. On Shavuot (which is also called Hag-Ha-katzir, the holiday of the harvest), the wheat would finally ripen, and the farmers would know how well their crops had done. The natural inclination would be to count down until the day of the harvest. Instead, the Torah stipulates that we should count up the days. This reversal implies that each day is valuable.

As we celebrate the giving the Torah with its 613 commandments, I would add just one more commandment: “Thou Shalt Not Miss Thy Life.” John Lennon understood this when he wrote that “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” This newest made up commandment reminds me not to miss the trees for the forest. Each day’s gifts should be appreciated on their own terms, not merely as a prelude to a future hope.

In this week’s ordination ceremony for the Ziegler school’s newest rabbis, Reb Mimi Feigelson noted that the Hebrew words hamtanah (the waiting) and hamatanah (the gift) are spelled the same. Even waiting can be a gift.

I hope to learn from Hannah to be content in my present stage. There will always be more ladders to climb in the future, but in the meantime, we can enjoy the gift of today.

Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches rabbinic literature at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children.


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