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In recounting those who contributed materials for the Tabernacle, the last-mentioned were:
The leaders of the tribes brought the shoham stones and other precious stones for the ephod and the breastplate. (35:27-2).
Rashi brings the observation that the word nesiim, meaning leaders of the tribes, is spelt without the usual letter yud. This defective spelling is a hint that those leaders did not contribute in a manner worthy of their position in society. Their motive was: "Let others contribute, and we will make up what is missing". That was reasonable. However, the leaders did not focus sufficiently on the people's enthusiastic response. It was so generous that almost nothing more was needed (36:5) by the time they stepped forward to give. They had been sitting back when others rushed forwards: their title was spelt defectively for the laziness shown in their apparent lack of enthusiasm.
The Kli Yakar develops this idea further. It is not just laziness, but more seriously pride, arrogance, and even patronizing attitude that underlie "Let others contribute, and we will make up what is missing". It hints of a distant stance towards the generosity of the regular people. That is something that individuals do sense and comment on. "G-d does lower whoever exalts himself" (Eruvin 13b) is implied in the defective spelling of their title, nesiim.
The Kli Yakar does point out that the materials that the leaders contributed were the most valuable ones. Quantity for quantity, the shoham and other precious stones were worth far more than the gold, silver, and copper donated by the people. But he emphasizes that it is the attitude of the giver that counts, not the value of the gift. Therefore these more valuable donations were the last rather than the first to be recounted by the Torah, so that rich should not have their pride fuelled with "My donation is the great one, and the Torah counts it first".
In addition, it may be suggested that the reasons that the leaders of the tribes contributed the shoham and other precious stones was because those gems would bear the names of their own tribes (28:9,21) and would be visibly associated with them personally. In contrast, the regular people's offerings were anonymous. They were processed and untraceable to their individual donors by the time the Tabernacle began to function. Perhaps the word nesiim is written defectively to indicate that the generosity of a person who gives in order to perpetuate his and his social group's name does not compare with the person who donates lishma, utterly sincerely without thought or chance of recognition and fame.
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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