Don’t ever worry about trying to “up” someone else. Just be your humble self! You have no one to impress but God!
This week is unique in terms of Torah readings. That’s because in addition to the weekly Torah portion, which is Miketz (Genesis 41-44:17), we also have the Chanukah Torah portion, which is spread over the eight days of Chanukah, with one piece read each day of the holiday. This includes Shabbat! As such, not one, but two Torah scrolls will be used this coming Shabbat: one for the weekly Torah portion, and the other for the Chanukah portion.
The Chanukah Torah reading (Numbers, chapter 7) is very unusual. It discusses the offerings that the princes of each tribe gave at the dedication of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. Construction of the Tabernacle had begun soon after Yom Kippur and it was completed on the 25th day of Kislev, about two months later, the exact date that the future holiday of Chanukah was to be observed!
As you can see, Chanukah, which represents the rededication of the Temple, is closely connected to the construction and dedication of the Mishkan, the “mini Temple” that accompanied the Jewish people in the desert for 40 years. Pretty cool, eh?
The actual inauguration of the Mishkan, however, was postponed until the first day of Nissan (two weeks before Passover!), which was when each of the 12 princes began to bring their offerings, one prince each day. On the first day, Nachshon ben Aminadav of the tribe of Judah brought his offering. The second day was the turn of Netanel ben Tzuar of the tribe of Issachar, etc.
There was something quite strange about the offerings of each of the princes: they were all the same! Yes, each prince brought the identical gift to the Mishkan: one silver dish, one silver bowl, fine flour mixed with oil, incense, animals and more.
Huh? The same ol’ offering each day? The same package of presents? What’s going on here?
Let’s think about it for a second. Let’s get into the minds of Nachshon and Netanel. Nachshon gave the impressive offering that he did, likely through his own creativity and initiative. And so it was. The next say it was Netanel’s turn. Our sages tell us that Netanel thought to himself: “What should I bring? Should I bring the same offering? No! That would be too bland and boring. I need to do better!” Netanel was tempted to bring something more impressive and distinct. He wanted to get into the “headlines” with some kind of fancy gift. He wanted to “one-up” Nachshon.
Isn’t this often the unfortunate case nowadays? People are always looking to “one-up” each other. Each one wants to have the fanciest wedding, bar mitzvah or even birthday party. So many people use such events to show off wealth, prestige, power – or simply just to show off! People often waste their money on such trivial matters and even spend money that they don’t have!
Staying Down to Earth in the Name of Heaven
Back to Netanel. What did Netanel do? He resisted the temptation! He decided against bringing something more impressive or grand. Not only did he realize that such an approach would be the right thing for himself, but he also thought about the third prince who might tempted to bring an even more impressive gift, possibly one that he couldn’t even afford!
Netanel ensured that there would be no shallow, materialistic competition among the tribes. How especially sacrilegious it would have been to have such competition rear its ugly head in the construction of a holy place and the service of God!
What a lesson for us! The Torah is clearly teaching us that “keeping up with the Joneses” is contrary to the spirit of Torah and definitely a path we should not consider taking. Don’t ever worry about trying to “up” anyone else. Just be your humble self! You have no one to impress but God!