The Torah portions of the last three weeks have given vivid descriptions of the component parts of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), its utensils and the clothes worn by the priests during their service within. This week's double portion relates the actual donation and collection of the needed materials and their manufacture.
The masses responded generously to the appeals for the myriad of different colored yarns needed for the tapestries, and they supplied all the needed gold, silver, copper and acacia wood. By the time the Princes of the twelve tribes responded, all that was left to be donated were the precious stones for the high priest's garments and the oil and spices for the service in the Mishkan. The Hebrew word for Princes, "Nesi'im", usually contains the letter "yud" in the suffix that transforms the singular "nasi" to the plural "nesi'im". While the letter is not needed for the word to be pronounced "Nesi'im", it appears in compliance with the rules of grammar. Yet, in the verse, "The Nesi'im brought the shoham stones and the stones for the settings for the Ephod and Breastplate," (Shemos/Exodus 35:27) the word "Nesi'im" is missing the "yud". Knowing the axiom that every letter in the Torah, whether additional or missing, is significant, what is the meaning of the missing "yud"?
Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki; 1040-1105; his commentary on Torah and Talmud are considered essential to the basic understanding of the text) explains with a Medrash relating to the Mishkan's Inauguration. At that time, each of the Princes voluntarily came forward with a celebratory offering. Why did the Princes display such alacrity at that time but at the time of the original donations they were last? The Medrash answers that when the general appeal was made for building materials they wanted to allow the Jewish people to respond to the best of their ability, while the Princes intended to compensate for any shortfall. But in the end, there was very little for them to give. Learning from their earlier missed opportunity, they offered enthusiastically when the Inauguration came. But, concludes the Medrash, because of their laziness at the original collection (the episode of our Parsha) their title is written deficiently, lacking the "yud".
Many contemporary commentaries note the Medrash's choice of verbiage in calling the Princes "lazy". The Medrash itself explains the very logical rationale for the wait: to give the people a chance to give. But the commentaries concur that the Medrash's critique is predicated on the understanding that had the Princes shared the enthusiasm of the masses to be contributors, they would not have let themselves be held back from participating. They would have been clamoring to give like the others, all rationales to the contrary notwithstanding. This laziness is the root of the loss of the "yud" in their name.
On the other hand, the Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen Kagan of Radin; 1838-1933; author of basic works in Jewish law, philosophy and ethics and renowned for his saintly qualities) uses this same axiom to answer a perplexing phenomenon in the narration of the Inauguration. Each of the twelve Princes brought the exact same gift, and while they are absolutely identical, the Torah itemizes each facet of each Prince's donation (Bamidbar/ Numbers 7:12-83). Rabbi Kagan clarifies that while the Torah could just as well have listed the six-verse sequence once and noted that all twelve Princes brought these gifts, each gift is enumerated because G-d treasures people who do mitzvos with enthusiasm, as a united group without jealousy and competition. More so, the Chofetz Chaim emphasizes, when the Princes, in their laziness, separated themselves from the masses, the lost only ONE LETTER; but when they came together to serve G-d with fervor, not only were no letters missing but the Torah added SIXTY SIX VERSES! Such is G-d's value of a mitzvah done with passion and zeal!