In our previous article, we began exploring the mistake and tikun of the N’siim. To review, during the Chanukas HaMishkan (the Inauguration of the Tabernacle), the N’siim (princes) of each Sheivet (tribe) contributed spectacular gifts toward the Mishkan (BaMidbar, perek 7). Chazal explain that these donations were intended to be a tikun (rectification) for their previous sin (See Rashi, BaMidbar 7:3; Sifrei, Naso 1:150). Earlier in the Torah, the N’siim are criticized for their inappropriate approach regarding their donations toward the building of the Mishkan (Rashi, Sh’mos 35:27). They delayed in donating gifts for the Mishkan, and in the interim, the Jewish People donated everything needed for the Mishkan, leaving the N’siim with nothing to give.

The N’siim are criticized for their lack of alacrity in donating to the Mishkan, and it is apparent that they realized their mistake, as they tried to rectify it by contributing elaborate gifts during the Chanukas HaMishkan. However, we must ask what the N’siim did that was so improper. In order to understand this episode, we began exploring the nature and meaning of chesed, loosely translated as kindness and giving.


Two Forms of Chesed

Beyond the varying degrees and levels of chesed, the Maharal explains that there are two distinct forms of giving. The first is responsive, when a person gives only that which is needed. This means giving only when a person sees a need or when someone asks for help. The drawback of this form of giving is that it is only done because it is compelled; it is caused by an external need. If this individual had not seen another in need, he would not have helped. While giving in this situation can still be done with pure intentions, there is a possibility that the giving is motivated by guilt or to avoid feeling the emotional pain of another person’s lack. If you see a person in dire need of help looking much less fortunate than you, you tend to feel bad for him. You want to help him, 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 we walk away without helping this person in need, we may feel like a rotten person. Therefore, to save ourselves from this emotional pain, we may help this person out.)

The second form of chesed is proactive, i.e., when you give purely for the sake of giving. This reflects a compelling desire to give and help others. In this case, there is no external cause for giving; rather, it stems from a deep internal desire to expand outwards and help others. Instead of waiting reactively for people to come to you, you proactively seek out opportunities to help. In a deep sense, this form of cheese does not stem from someone else’s need to receive but from your internal desire to give. You will therefore happily give to someone, even if he isn’t in need and even if he already has what you wish to give him.


Examples of Proactive Chesed

The ultimate paradigm of proactive cheese was Hashem’s decision to create the world. There was no external recipient when Hashem created the world, there was no “need,” and there was no external force pressuring Hashem to “give” the world existence. As the Rambam, the Ramchal, and others explain, Hashem’s decision to create the world was spontaneous and proactive, stemming only from His desire to give.

This is also the Jewish approach to spirituality. We don’t wait for spirituality to come to us; we proactively seek it out. We don’t let time wash over us; we actively ride the waves of time. For the Shalosh R’galim, all of klal Yisrael travel toward Yerushalayim, proactively seeking out holiness from the point of its physical origin, the Beis HaMikdash. On Friday evening, we proactively greet Shabbos through Kabbalas Shabbos. This practice stems from the great sages who used to proactively go out into the fields to greet Shabbos and bring it in (Bava Kama 32b). They also accepted Shabbos early, in order to play an active role in bringing Shabbos in, and we emulate this, as well.


Understanding the N’siim

We can now understand the mistake, and the subsequent rectification, of the N’siim. When it came to the building of the Mishkan, the N’siim were reactive. Their calculation may have been rational and sound, 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 eagerly give to the Mishkanfor the sake of giving – even if there may be overlap between the gifts. The practical concern of specific inventory can be dealt with at a later stage. By waiting until the end to give their gifts, the N’siim displayed a slight lack in their love for Hashem.


The Tikun of the N’siim

The N’siim rectified their mistake at the Chanukas HaMishkan when they gave their gifts spontaneously and proactively. Whereas they gave last when it came to the building of the Mishkan, they gave first at its inauguration.

But there is another unique feature of these gifts. The commentators note that all twelve of the N’siim gave identical gifts at the Chanukas HaMishkan. Yet, the Torah enumerates each gift individually, repeating the same exact description over and over again. This seems redundant and unnecessary; why did each Nasi give the same exact gift as his fellow 11 N’siim, and why does the Torah detail all 12 of them? But this, in fact, was their ultimate rectification. Their sin lay in being reactive; their tikkun came through proactivity. Their sin lay in over-calculating and worrying about overlapping their gifts; their tikun came specifically through giving the same exact gift, an explicit expression of repetition, and a true expression of giving for the sake of giving.


Same Gifts?

There is an additional layer to this, as well. While it appears that each of the N’siim gave the same gift, that is true only on the surface level. The Midrash explains that while each Nasi gave an identical gift, each gift reflected the unique spiritual essence of the Nasi’s Sheivet. The external packaging may have been the same, but the internal meaning was fundamentally different. This idea is essential to our own lives, as well. We say the same words of Sh’moneh Esrei three times a day, but each and every t’filah should be unique. We say the same physical words, but each time we have the opportunity for a new and elevated internal experience of connection and meaning. The thoughts and feelings that infuse the words of this prayer will never be the same as those that shape another prayer.

This idea is deeply connected to the one gift that the N’siim did end up giving originally, during the building of the Mishkan. After klal Yisrael donated everything for the Mishkan, there was still one gift left for the N’siim to give: the Avnei Miluim, the 12 beautiful stones that were placed within the Choshen (breastplate worn by the Kohen Gadol). Commentators explain that the 12 unique stones represent the twelve Sh’vatim, each destined to fulfill its own unique role and purpose. All the Sh’vatim come together to create a single klal, a single nation, where the individuals come together in such a brilliant way that the result transcends the sum of its parts. So, too, each of us is destined to fulfill a unique role in the world, to embark on our own unique journey to greatness, and to become part of something infinitely greater than ourselves.

The gifts of the N’siim teach us a powerful lesson: The stones of the Avnei Miluim are each unique and separate on the surface, but they come together into a collective whole, reflecting the deeper spiritual oneness of klal Yisrael. The second gifts of the N’siim appeared the same on the surface, while their uniqueness lay within. The physical surfaces mirrored one another, but internally, each Nasi had his own unique intentions and thoughts. These two sets of gifts teach us both sides of an essential principle:

Things that appear the same on the surface can be entirely unique within.

Even that which appears individual, unique, and separate on the surface can connect into the deeper oneness of a greater whole.


Living Proactively

When you wake up in the morning, how do you start your day? Are you reactive to that which comes your way, or do you proactively pave your path? Success does not come by accident; it comes from mindful planning, intense commitment, and consistent execution. If we live a reactive life, we will wake up one day and wonder why we are so far from our desired destination. True success requires proactivity, 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 full of love that we proactively seek out ways to contribute to those around us.

Rabbi Shmuel Reichman is the author of the bestselling book, The Journey to Your Ultimate Self, which serves as an inspiring gateway into deeper Jewish thought. He is an international speaker, educator, and the CEO of Self-Mastery Academy. After obtaining his BA from Yeshiva University, he received s’micha from RIETS, a master’s degree in education, a master’s degree in Jewish Thought, and then spent a year studying at Harvard. He is currently pursuing a PhD at UChicago. To invite Rabbi Reichman to speak in your community or to enjoy more of his deep and inspiring content, visit his website: