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12/12 to Torah for keeping up the suspense



Many consider the end of this week’s parsha, the longest in the Pentateuch, to be boring and repetitive. Truth be told, of the portion’s 176 verses, there is a sequence of 72 verses that consist of 12 virtually similar paragraphs repeated. They describe the inauguration ceremony of the Tabernacle. For 12 days, leaders of the tribes brought offerings on behalf of their constituents. The content of the offerings were identical, as were the vessels used to bring them. Hence, 12 sequences of six identical verses, except for the date and the names, detailing the gifts.

Repetitive indeed, but only boring if you read it wrong. The offering of all 12 princes was identical by agreement. They decided that they wouldn’t try to outdo one another. This is very noble, but runs contrary to human nature. One-upmanship is natural because humans are competitive beings. It thus wasn’t an easy decision.

Resolutions are easy to make, but more difficult to abide by. Thus, we read in great detail about day one, when Nachshon, the head of Judah, brings his offering. What will happen on the second day, when it’s the turn of Netanel, the prince of Yissachar? Will he resist the temptation to outdo, just a little, the previous day’s offering? Will he add just an extra small gift, vary the size of the vessels, or increase the number of animals? We concentrate as we read on to the second paragraph of the 12. In detail, the Torah lists his offering. And we are relieved when we find out that he didn’t succumb.

The same tension continues to build as we read on, paragraph after paragraph. With each successive passage, we wonder whether the prince will have the strength of character that his predecessor displayed, and not deviate from the agreement. The Torah describes the details of the gifts and we pay close attention, waiting with bated breath. One after the other, we discover that Eliav, Elitzur, and Shlumiel, followed by the next six tribal leaders, all stick to the plan.

Finally, we get to day 12, and there remains only one leader, Achira from the tribe of Naftali. The suspense mounts as we realise that the temptation for him is huge. What will stop him from improving, ever so slightly, on what the 11 tribes have done before him? He could easily rationalise that he has had to wait all this time and that in exchange for being last, he can justify a little special extra. After all, he’s last, and nobody can do better after him. The suspense, which has been mounting on each successive day, reaches its peak as we wonder whether he too will be able to resist.

With relief, we discover that Achira has also risen to the challenge, scoring a collective 12/12 for the princes! Only now, we can relax.

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