Seeing Potential Greatness

One of the most noticeably unusual sections of the Torah is the one that describes the sanctification of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).  The Torah’s account of the twelve nearly identical offerings that each of the tribal leaders brought is very repetitive.  The significance of this repetition has been discussed by many commentaries; it is also worthwhile to note that there are subtle differences between the Torah’s descriptions of these twelve offerings.  One such difference is the omission of the title of the leader of one tribe.  Nachshon, son of Aminadav, the leader of the tribe of Yehudah, is merely described as “of the tribe of Yehuda.”  All of the eleven other tribal leaders are referred to by their title of Nasi, usually translated as “prince.”  In fact, Nachson had recently achieved exceptional notoriety on the Egyptian shore of the Sea of Reeds when he sanctified the Almighty’s name by being the first one to actually descend into the sea before it split.  Why did the Torah “short change” this celebrity Nasi of the tribe of Yehuda, and not refer to him with the appropriate title?

In his commentary on Chumash entitled Sefer Apriyon, Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried (1804 – 1886), author of the popular halachic work Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, suggests that the omission of Nachson’s title is actually intended in a positive and not a negative sense.  In reward for his confidence in the Almighty and his heroism, Nachshon had merited that his descendants would become ruling monarchs (see T.B. Sotah 37a.  This refers to King David and his progeny).  Although Nachshon was not and would never actually be king, he was nevertheless “royal material” albeit in latent form.  A king rules over all twelve tribes of the nation, whereas a Nasi rules over only one.  In recognition of this status that he had on only a potential or eventual level, a status that would only be realized and brought to fruition many generations later, the Torah refrains from referring to Nachshon in a way that would be even subtly beneath his family’s dignity.

The Talmud says: “Who is wise?  One who can envision what might possibly occur.”  Part of wisdom is developing the ability and the habit to look at people and situations not only how they actually are now, but also how they may potentially develop in the future.  Rachel, the wife of the legendary sage Rabbi Akiva, exemplified this way of thinking.  The Talmud tells the story of how they met.  It says that Akiva originally worked for Rachel’s wealthy father as a seemingly simple, unsophisticated shepherd.  She saw that he was modest and good.  She said to him:  “If I will marry you, will you go away to study in a yeshiva?”  He agreed, and they got secretly got married and she sent him away.  Her father found out, threw her out of the house and vowed that she may not derive any benefit from anything he owned.  Akiva spent twenty-four years in yeshiva and returned as the great scholar Rabbi Akiva.  Rachel’s father did not have an inaccurate picture of his shepherd.  But he was only looking at his actual picture.  Rachel was able to see the second dimension, the shepherd’s potential picture, so clearly and confidently that she made one of life’s biggest decisions based on it (T.B. Ketubot 72b).  This idea is also expressed in Avot (4:3) [Ben Azzai] used to say:  Do not be scornful of any person and do not be disdainful of anything, for you have no person without his hour and no thing without its place.  The Torah’s omission of the title of Nasi in reference to Nachshon son of Aminadav reminds us of the importance of honing this ability.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Seeing Potential Greatness

  1. Carol Goldstein

    B”H Thanks for your drosh. I always learn something I can apply to myself.

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