When you wake up in the morning, how do you start your day? Many people immediately look at their phones, look at their messages, and are bombarded by the rush and stimulus of incoming data. But in so doing, we have begun our day in a reactive state, allowing external stimuli to become the starting point of our day. As a result, the rest of our day can end up becoming one long reactive experience. Studies have shown that highly successful people do not immediately look at their phones upon waking. Rather, they wait at least an hour before looking at their phone and messages. In so doing, they create a proactive momentum to their morning, choosing what to think about and what to focus on. Instead of allowing external stimuli to guide their first waking thoughts, they replace that with mindful, guided, and goal-oriented thinking. Davening is an embodiment of this same concept, of starting our day with mindfulness and directed thought. This idea connects to an important theme in this week’s parshah, Naso.
This week’s parshah features the Chanukas HaMishkan, the inauguration of the Tabernacle. At this ceremony, the N’siim – the Princes of each sheivet (tribe) – contributed spectacular gifts towards the Mishkan. Chazal explain that these donations were intended to be a tikun – a rectification – of their previous sin. Earlier on, in Parshas VaYakhel (Rashi, Sh’mos 35:27), the N’siim were criticized for their inappropriate calculation in regards to donating towards the building of the Mishkan. They delayed in donating gifts to the Mishkan, and, in the interim, the Jewish People donated everything needed for the Mishkan, leaving the N’siim with nothing to donate.
However, what is striking to note is that their intention was pure; they planned to wait and see what was still needed in the Mishkan after the rest of klal Yisrael donated, and hoped to donate the rest. They assumed that if everybody donated simultaneously, there would be overlapping gifts; many things would be given multiple times, while other essential things might be left out completely. The N’siim wanted to then fill in the gaps, ensuring that the donation process was complete. Unfortunately, though, when the giving stopped and the dust settled, there was nothing left to give. Klal Yisrael had surpassed all expectations, donating every single required item and even surpassing the required quotas. The N’siim, due to their delay, had lost out on their chance to donate to the Mishkan.
The N’siim are criticized for their lack of alacrity in donating to the Mishkan, and they clearly realized their mistake, as they try to rectify it by contributing elaborate gifts during the Chanukas HaMishkan. However, we must ask what the N’siim did that was so improper. After all, their calculation seems completely logical. Why donate something that someone else already has? Isn’t it worthwhile to ensure that your gift will be useful? Why then do we view their actions, or lack thereof, in such a negative way? Furthermore, how do the N’siim’s gifts in parshas Naso rectify their mistake? In order to understand this, we must first understand the nature of chesed, loosely translated as kindness and giving.
Even on the simplest level, chesed is a fundamental character trait: the ability to expand beyond our limited selves and contribute towards others. As the pasuk in T’hilim says, “Olam chesed yibaneh” (T’hilim 89:3), the world was built from chesed. Hashem created this world as an act of pure kindness, with the goal of giving to each and every one of us; and when we give to others, we emulate Hashem.
Two Forms of Chesed
Within the discussion of varying degrees and levels of chesed, the Maharal develops two fundamentally different forms of giving. The first form is responsive, when a person only gives what is needed. In essence, this means giving only when a person sees a need, or when someone asks for help. The limitation in this form of giving is that you give only because it is needed, input resulting in output, cause and effect. If he had not seen the person in need, he would not have helped. The motivation of such giving can therefore be questioned. The usual motivation is guilt or empathy; if you see a person in dire need of help, perhaps looking much less fortunate than you, you tend to feel bad for them. You want to help them, but you also want to make yourself feel better, to assuage your own feelings of guilt. Another possible motivation is to prevent potential self-hatred. If you walk away without helping this person in need, you may feel like a rotten person. Therefore, to save yourself from this emotional pain, you help this person out.
The second form of chesed is proactive, when you give for the sake of giving. This reflects an overwhelming desire to give and help others. In this case, nothing external caused your desire to give; it stems from within, from a deep desire to expand and overflow outwards and help others. In this case, you don’t wait reactively for people to come to you; but rather, you proactively seek out opportunities to help. In a deep sense, this form of chesed doesn’t stem from someone’s external need to receive, but from your internal desire to give. You will therefore happily give to others, even if they aren’t in need, even if they already have what you wish to give them.
Understanding the N’siim
We can now understand the mistake and the rectification of the N’siim. When it came to the building of the Mishkan, the N’siim were reactive. True, their calculation was rational and made sense, but that itself was the problem. When you truly love someone, you give for the sake of giving, spontaneously, as an expression of overwhelming love. If you love Hashem, you give to the Mishkan for the sake of giving, even if there might be some overlap in the gifts. That practical concern can be dealt with at a later stage. By waiting until the end and giving their gifts last, the N’siim displayed a slight chisaron – a lack – in their love for Hashem.
The N’siim rectified their mistake at the Chanukas HaMishkan when they gave their gifts immediately and spontaneously. Whereas they gave last when it came to the building of the Mishkan, they gave first at its inauguration.
But there is another unique characteristic of these gifts. The commentaries note that every single one of the N’siim gave the same exact gift at the Chanukas HaMishkan. Yet, the Torah enumerates every single gift individually, repeating the same exact description over and over again. This seems repetitive and unnecessary: Why give the same exact thing as 11 of your fellow N’siim? But this, in fact, was their ultimate rectification. Their sin lay in being reactive, so their tikun was proactivity. Their sin was in being so over-calculating and worried about overlapping with other people’s gifts, that their tikun was in all of the N’siim giving the same exact gift, an explicit expression of overlap, and explicit expression of giving for the sake of giving.
There is an additional layer to this, as well. While it appears that each of the N’siim gave the same gift, that’s only on the outside, the surface layer. The Midrash states that while each Nasi gave the same physical gift, each one reflected the unique spiritual essence of his sheivet. The external may be the same, but the internal was fundamentally unique to each Nasi. This is just like Sh’moneh Esrei, where we say an identical prayer three times a day, but every single t’filah is meant to be different and unique. We say the same physical words; but each and every time, we have the opportunity for a new and elevated internal experience of connection and meaning. The thoughts and feelings that we infuse into the words of any one prayer will never be the same as that which shapes another prayer.
This brings us full circle. When you wake up in the morning, how do you start your day? Are you reactive to everything in life that comes your way, or are you proactively paving your path? Success does not come by accident; it comes from mindful planning, consistently good choices, and careful execution. If we live reactive lives, we will wake up one day and wonder how we ventured so far from our desired destination. It is only from constant proactivity that true success is built. And the virtue of proactivity stems from the midah of chesed, proactively seeking ways to do good, to help others, to improve the world around us. May we be inspired to become so overwhelmingly full of love that we proactively seek out ways to contribute to those around us.