Questions and Suggested Answers
Based on the writings of Nehama Leibowitz
Cf. the following passage from Sifrei (Naso Num. 7, 2-3) with the Midrash from Bamidbar Rabbah cited on p. 701:
"Then the princes of Israel offered... and brought their offering before the Lord". R. Nathan said: What prompted the princes to be the first to contribute (after Moses had completed the erection of the Tabernacle), whereas in the actual construction of the Tabernacle they were not the first to contribute. But this was what the princes said: Let the Israelites make their contribution, and whatever is still lacking we will make up. As soon as they saw that the Israelites had given all that was needed: "the work was enough and more" (36, 7), the princes said: "What is there left for us to do?" And they brought the onyx stones. Therefore on this occasion they were the first with their contribution.
What is the difference in the evaluation of the princes' conduct in these two Midrashim?
Rabbi Nathan in the Sifrei evaluates the princes in a very positive light. As leaders they monitored the contributions with the intention of making up any shortfall. Thus they undertook the responsibility to assure that the campaign would be a guaranteed success.
In Bamidbar Rabbah, the midrash is very critical of the princes holding them to be aloof from the people and expecting special recognition. Therefore they stood on the sidelines with a wait-and-see attitude: If and when there would be a shortfall, they would then become involved. In this interpretation the princes displayed a condescending attitude toward the community.
"The princes brought the onyx stones" (35, 27). Because they were remiss here, the Torah dropped the letter yod. But in the case of their contribution in the sidra of Naso the Torah dwelt separately on each of their contributions and did not lump them together, though they were identical. This is to teach us how highly God values people doing things together with the community, not trying to outdo each other and not driven by envy and competition. (Hafetz Hayyim)
Which of the commentators we have cited share his approach?
The cited commentators who share the view of the Hafetz Hayyim are:
1. Bamidbar Rabbah
3. Or Ha-hayyim
4. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch
Prepared by: Rabbi Mordechai Spiegelman veteran yeshiva educator (USA) now residing in Jerusalem