The Torah in Parashat Pinchas presents the mitzva of the korban tamid – the daily sacrifice which was to be offered each and every day in the Beit Ha-mikdash. As the Torah commands, this sacrifice consisted of a sheep offered each morning, and a second sheep offered each afternoon.
Ketav Sofer notes a subtle shift in this context from the plural form to the singular form. The Torah begins with the plural form – “tishmeru le-hakriv li” (“you shall ensure to sacrifice to Me” – 28:2); “zeh ha-isheh asher takrivu” (“this is the offering which you shall sacrifice” – 28:3) – but in the next verse, the Torah commands, “Et ha-keves ha-echad ta’aseh ba-boker” (“One sheep you shall prepare in the morning”), utilizing the singular form.
To explain this nuance, Ketav Sofer observes the unique nature of a public mitzva, such as the korbenot tzibur – the sacrifices offered collectively by the entire nation. God wanted us to not only perform individual, personal mitzvot, but also participate in communal and national mitzvot, whereby we all merge together into a single, collective unit that serves God. The value of public mitzvot lies in the fact that an aggregate whole is greater than the sum of all its parts; that the power of a large, unified group of people combining their efforts far exceeds that of a group of individuals working alone. Therefore, God wanted us to serve Him both as individuals – so we can grow and achieve on a personal and individual level – and also as a nation, whereby we can accomplish so much more than we can as isolated individuals. And so He gave us both personal mitzvot to observe and collective mitzvot in which we are to participate along with the rest of our community and our nation.
However, there appears to be a distinct disadvantage to collective, public mitzvot, in that individuals lose their personal identity, becoming just a piece of a large puzzle. When participating in communal or national undertakings, people may feel as though they receive no credit for the mitzva being performed, since they do not achieve anything on their own. Moreover, when a mitzva is observed by a collective unit, individuals might find it unfulfilling, as they play such a small, seemingly insignificant role in the mitzva’s performance, which included the participation of such a large number of people.
For this reason, Ketav Sofer suggests, the Torah transitions from the plural form to the singular form in its presentation of the command of the tamid sacrifice – the quintessential public mitzva. The Torah begins in the plural form, because this mitzva is directed towards the nation as a whole. But it then shifts to the singular form to emphasize that each and every individual is credited with the full performance of a mitzva. It should not trouble us that we each fill a very small role in communal obligations, because the success of these undertakings requires the participation of every individual, and so every individual is to be considered as having personally facilitated the mitzva. Even when it appears that our role is insignificantly small, the Torah considers every person’s role vitally important and indispensable, and credits each and every one of us with having individually facilitated the mitzva that was achieved.