Over the past couple of weeks, my 5th grade students have been putting on skits to reenact what we’ve been learning in Chumash class. At one point in preparing for their performances, one student was puzzled. “We’re all working the same storyline. It’s not fair! All the skits are going to be the same!” Before I could respond to my perplexed pupil, another one of my students chimed in and without missing a beat responded “Just because it’s the same story in the same perek doesn’t mean it will be the same skit. Each group will add different things and act out scenes in ways that other groups won’t.” Reflecting on this very mature answer, it occurred to me that this was a poignant reflection in regard to Chanukah.
Throughout the eight days of Chanukah, our Torah reading is taken the passages of Bamidbar that relate to the korbanos that were given by the Nesiim on the inaugural day of the Mishkan. The first offering was given by the Nasi of the tribe of Yehuda and this continued with the different shvatim for eleven more days when the final offering was brought by the Nasi of Shevet Naftali. The aliyot are repeated virtually verbatim, except for exchanging each tribe and Nasi and sometimes other small differences. Anyone who has been at Shacharit on any of the mornings of Chanukah can basically lain the entire torah reading. At times, the communal cacophony following along becomes almost as notorious as the Rosh Chodesh reading or the Pesach “Ka’Eileh.” The commentators are curious: if the korbanot that each tribe brought were identical, why does the Torah list each tribe’s offering in detail. Our sages tell us profusely that the words of the Torah are meted out very carefully, and there is no extra letter, word, or phrase. Couldn’t the fact that each Nasi brought the same korban have been mentioned in a single pasuk?
Ramban answers that to the casual reader, each offering seems identical, yet the kavanah, the specific intention devoted to korban was anything but that. Each tribe was different, and their offerings took on different nuances. The tribe of Yehuda was the tribe of Malchut, of majesty. The kavanah of the korban that Nachshon ben Aminadav gave was in the spirit of nobility and royalty. This is the same in regard to Yissachar being the shevet of Torah, and the korban of this tribe included the kavanah of Torah elements.
Twelve tribes. Twelves identical korbanot. Twelve entirely different kavanot.
This is an idea that we can relate to our Avodat Hashem as well. At times, it’s not unusual to feel that our formal prayer structure is very limiting. We say the same tefillot every day, three times a day. Granted, there are different additions and omissions for various holidays and occasions, but for the most part, our davening structure can be seen by some as being a little rigid. Yet, each person approached tefillah differently. While I daven, I may be saying the same words in the siddur as my neighbor, but there presumably different thoughts going through our minds. As we traverse through the Amidah or any other part of the siddur, we have different kavanot in different places. With this idea in mind, every one of us can capture the grandeur of the korbanot of the Nesiim, and find ways to imbue tremendous additional meaning to our own individual tefillah.