The Importance of the Individual
Towards the end of the Portion, the Torah describes at great length the offerings of the Nesi'im (Princes) on the day that the Tabernacle was sanctified. What is unusual about this section is that every Prince offered exactly the same offerings, yet the Torah describes each one separately in virtually identical verses. We know that there are no extra words in the Torah, accordingly, the commentaries ask why it was necessary to enumerate the same information 12 times? Why couldn't the Torah simply mention the offerings the first time and then simply say that all the other Nesi'im brought the exact same offerings?
The Darchei Mussar, quoting the Alter of Kelm, answers this question:(1) He writes that the Torah is coming to teach us how to relate to the individual's performance of mitzvot within the Jewish nation. A person may think that when a large number of people perform the same mitzvah then they are all subsumed within the group and there is no focus on each individual's performance of the mitzvah. However, this is not the case; rather God is happy at every single mitzvah that every single Jew performs. This is because God's capacity to love and care for each Jew is infinite and is not hindered by the fact that He also loves so many other Jews.
Accordingly, to the same extent that God was gladdened because of the offering of the first Prince, Nachshon ben Aminadav, He was also joyful at the offerings of all the Nesi'im. Therefore, the Torah deemed it appropriate to specify each set of offerings in and of itself. This teaches a fundamental lesson about Jewish thought in contrast with that of other belief systems. The atheist, for example, cannot believe that each individual has any intrinsic worth. He is merely one of several billion human beings who are made up of flesh and bone just like all other living beings who reside in a small, insignificant planet in a minor Solar System that is located in one of millions of galaxies. When an atheist would take this belief to its logical conclusion he would feel a great sense of lack of self-worth because he pales into total insignificance.
In contrast, according to the Torah view, each person is of Infinite worth because he is beloved by God. This is expressed in a number of Rabbinic sources: The Mishna in Pirkei Avot says: "Man is beloved because he was created in the image [of God]..." (2) This Mishna is teaching us that since every person has a soul he is dear to God.
The Mishna in Sanhedrin is even more explicit about the individual importance of every person. It discusses why, of all living beings, only man was created alone, whereas all other creatures were created in large numbers. The Mishna explains: "Man was created alone to teach that about whoever destroys one soul from Israel the Torah considers it as if he destroyed a whole world. And about whoever saves a soul from Israel, the Torah considers it as if he saved the whole world." (3)
These sources emphasize the great value of each individual and teach us the logical consequences of this belief. Firstly, as we discussed above, one should realize his own self-worth. But moreover, this teaches us that .no person is insignificant in the eyes of God, and therefore each person is obligated to view everyone else in this fashion and treat them accordingly.
We have seen how the Torah went to great lengths to enumerate the offerings of 12 Nesi'im to teach that God cares about every individual's actions. This makes it incumbent upon us to respect ourselves and to treat others with the respect due to them. There is one final outcome of this tenet of Judaism; since God cares about every single action that every single person takes, each person must develop an acute sense of responsibility for his actions. In this vein the Rambam writes that each person should view the world as being constantly on a weighing scale of mitzvot versus sins, and that every mitzvah that he does could tip the scales for the good, and every sin that he commits could have the opposite effect. This should imbue us with the recognition of the importance of each and every action that we take.
1. Lekach Tov, Nasso.
2. Avot, 3:18.
3. Sanhedrin, Ch. 4, Mishna 5.