Naso 5777

D'var Torah | Numbers

On each of twelve successive days, a representative of one of the twelve tribes brought an identical offering in celebration of the consecration of the Tabernacle. Of course, for such an important occasion, the representative of each tribe would have to be an exemplary person worthy of the honor. That is why each representative is called a “nasi,” meaning prince or chieftain: each, except one. The very first representative – of the tribe of Judah – is Nahshon ben Aminadav. The title “nasi” is curiously absent from his name. This notable absence encouraged Rabbi Hayyim ben Moshe ibn Attar (1696 – 1748) to speculate on the reason for the omission.


In his mainly mystical commentary on the Torah entitled Or Hayyim, Rabbi Hayyim ben Moshe argues that each of the tribal representatives were leaders of noble and respected families in their tribes. By birth alone they would have made worthy delegates. But he reasons, Nahshon was the caliber of person who would have merited the honor whether or not he was a chieftain. It was not his birthright that made him worthy but his character. The Or Hayyim reminds his readers that Nahshon was the brave soul who, according to the Midrash (Mekhilta, Beshallah 5), was first to jump into the Reed Sea. The miracle of the splitting of the sea followed his act of faith and courage. For such a person the title “nasi” is irrelevant and unnecessary. His deed merited him the honor of representing his tribe. Hence the Torah omits the title.


What this eighteenth century Biblical commentator concluded independently is confirmed by the thinking of business consultants and industrial psychologists today. These modern experts maintain that there are tow kinds of power that people can possess. The most obvious kind of power is power of position. This kind of power derives from the status of the individual within the hierarchy of the organization. The supervisors of dozens of employees enjoy a degree of power that is theirs by virtue of their job description. But the second kind of power is personal power. Personal power derives from the esteem in which others hold him and the loyalty the person can command. Personal power is held independently of status within the organization. And personal power is far more effective that positional power.


In other words, who you are is more important than what you are. What you do is more important that what you are called. Character is more important than titles. This is the insightful message of the Torah that sees Hahshon as more than a prince by name.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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