The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
Yeshivat Har Etzion
series is dedicated
in memory of Michael Jotkowitz, z"l.
loving memory of Dr. Sid Finkelstein, z"l.
May the Finkelstein-Daniel family be
comforted among the mourners of Zion veYerushalayim.
and the Chariot
Rav Chaoch Waxman
Shortly after opening, Parashat Naso
switches gears. After narrating the completion of God's instruction to Moshe
for counting the Levites and the details of their particular roles in
transporting the Mishkan (4:21-49), the Torah reports
that God commanded Moshe as follows:
the Children of Israel to send out of the camp all with an eruption (tzara'at), or discharge (zav)
and whomever is defiled by the dead. Both male and female shall you send out,
and they shall not defile their camps amidst which I dwell. (5:3)
This short passage
raises numerous difficulties. On the simplest level, the divine fiat is clear.
A person afflicted with tzara'at lesions,
suffering from an abnormal discharge known as zav
or one who has come in contact with a dead body, must be sent from the
camp. These three cases, know in halakhic terminology
as avot ha-tuma,
constitute severe occurrences of defilement. As the Ibn
Ezra reminds us (5:1), the defiled is impure for seven days and can pass his
defilement onto others. Yet while the common denominator of the metzora, the zav
and the tamai la-nefesh
is clear, the rationale for their being expelled from the camp remains
relatively obscure. While the text does refer to the problem of "defiling
their camps," perhaps a reference to the capability of these three to
defile other persons and objects, the intent of the passage remains unclear. If
these avot ha-tuma require isolation, why can't they be isolated
within the camp? Moreover, as the passage emphasizes, the rationale seems to
revolve around a human-divine connection, or more accurately, distancing,
rather than a human-human distancing. As the text concludes:
"Amidst which I dwell" (5:3). Apparently, the thrice
reiterated need to "send out" the defiled (5:1,2,2)
stems from the presence of the Divine in the camp. But this requires some
Furthermore, the very location of
the passage seems problematic. We have here a passage conceptually congruent
with material normally thought of as belonging elsewhere in the Torah. The Book
of Vayikra, the book of the Torah normally considered
dedicated to issues of sanctity, holiness and defilement, indeed contains both
a lengthy discourse on the laws of tzara'at (Vayikra 13:1-14:57) and a segment on the laws of
discharge (15:1-15). While the laws of those defiled by the dead are mentioned
in Sefer Bamidbar
(19:1-22), as the Ramban (19:2) points out, the
segment containing the laws comprises an independent unit, a kind of
parenthetical insert. The corpus is located in chapter 19 of Bamidbar due to the unique role of the priest in the
purification procedure and the desire to elaborate on the priests, priesthood,
life and death in the aftermath of Korach's rebellion
(16:1-17:28). In short, on the conceptual plane, the material belongs in Sefer Vayikra, the
book of holiness, sanctity and defilement.
If so, we must search for a parallel
justification for Bamdibar 5:1-3. What
constitutes the rationale for placing this particular segment of the larger
"defilement code," laws pertaining to sanctity and holiness, at this
particular point in the Book of Bamidbar? We
must puzzle out not only the reason why the defiled must be removed from the
camp, but also the rationale for the placement of these laws of defilement at
this juncture in Sefer Bamidbar.
In explaining the need to expel the metzora, zav and tamei la-nefesh
from the camp, the Torah utilizes the phrase, "Amidst which I dwell"
(5:3). The core of the phrase consists of two terms, shokhen,
rooted in the stem sh.kh.n and meaning rest or
dwell, and betokham, meaning amidst or among.
This formulation should be familiar. It constitutes a slight variation on the
phrase used to describe the purpose of building the tabernacle. In Shemot 25:8 God informs Moshe of the ultimate end
goal of constructing the Mishkan.
shall make me a sanctuary (mikdash) so that I
may dwell amidst them (ve-shakhanti betokham)
On some plane,
either symbolic or metaphysical, the sanctuary constitutes the abode of the
divine presence. The most common term for the sanctuary, mishkan,
comprises but another variation of the stem sh.kh.n,
meaning dwell or rest. In a similar vein, the Book of Shemot
and the completion of the construction of the Mishkan, closes with the
image of the divine cloud, symbolizing the divine presence, resting upon the Mishkan (Shemot 40:34-35).
In this light, the phrase utilized at the end or our parasha,
"Amidst which I dwell (asher ani shokhen betokham)"
(5:3), seems to constitute a technical reference to the Mishkan,
the abode of the divine presence located at the center
of the Israelite camp.
Defilement on the one hand, and
sanctity, sanctuary, holiness and Mishkan on the
other, comprise conceptual and practical opposites throughout the Torah. For
example, the beginning of the lengthy defilement code found in Vayikra teaches that a post-partum woman,
until she has undergone her purification procedure, is also considered tamei and cannot "touch any sanctified object,
nor come to the sanctuary" (Vayikra
12:4). Contact between holiness and defilement and therefore between sanctified
objects and de-sanctified persons is forbidden. Consequently, a defiled person
cannot enter the precincts of the Mishkan, the abode
of the ultimate source of sanctity.
Likewise, the primary description of
the laws of tamei la-nefesh,
of those defiled by contact with the dead, informs us that:
touches a dead body and does not purify himself, defiles the Mishkan of God, his soul shall be cut off from Israel. (Bamidbar 19:13)
While the text here
does not explicitly refer to trespass or physical contact, that does appear to
be the intent. As Rashi (19:13) clarifies for us:
"if he enters". Once again, tuma and
the presence of the divine constitute inherently contradictory categories. Defilement prohibits one from approaching the
In this light, we can interpret the
expulsion of the metzora, zav
and tamei la-nefesh
from the camp as a pragmatic matter. Their presence in the camp may lead to
their approaching the sanctuary or trespassing upon its grounds. As already
noted, this is defined by the Torah as "defiling the Mishkan
of God" (19:13). This contradiction and possible defilement of the divine
presence must be prevented and guarded against proactively. Consequently the three severe avot ha-tuma are sent from the camp, lest they trespass
the border of the divine.
This reading should also help us
clarify the second problem raised above, the placement
of the parasha at this juncture in Sefer Bamidbar. On
a cursory reading, the first four chapters of Bamidbar
can be thought of as primarily an accounting, concerned primarily with numbers,
and rendering for us the precise number of Israelites and Levites numerous
times. However, upon closer analysis this is only part of the story. The
chapters should also be perceived as a sustained discourse upon the physical
arrangement of the Israelite camp.
As pointed out in our discussion of Parashat Bamidbar the
counting of the Israelites reaches its conclusion, its logical purpose, in the
arrangement of the various tribes into standards grouped around the Mishkan (1:1-2:34). Similarly, the twice-repeated Levite
census (3:1-4:49) dictates the precise location of each subgroup of Levites around
the Mishkan (3:22,28,35,38).
On some level, it is no surprise that the numberings and consequent
arrangements of the camp detailed in the census narrative (1:1-4:49) are
followed by a legal segment detailing the expulsion of the metzora,
zav and tamei
la-nefesh from the camp. These laws of encampment
follow naturally on the heels of the narrative detailing the arrangement of the
camp. Both are variations on the theme of hilkhot
ha-machaneh, the laws of the arranging of the
But there is more to it than this.
In point of fact, the connections run a little bit deeper. Let us turn our
attention to some of the details of the preceding census narrative.
The danger of encroachment
predicated in the short code of hilkhot ha-machaneh that opens chapter 5, crops up during these
preceding segments of the story. Early on in the census narratives, the Torah
informs us that the Levites will be counted separately (1:49). This is due to
their unique function as servants of the Mishkan
(1:50). In elaborating upon this point, the Torah informs us that the Levites
are to encamp around the Mishkan so that "there
will be no wrath (ketzef) upon the Children of
Israel" (1:53). Immediately afterwards, in the conclusion of the verse,
the Levites are charged with guarding the Mishkan.
This picks up on the mention two verses earlier of the fact that "the
stranger" or non-Levite who attempts to participate in the transportation
of the Mishkan is subject to the death penalty
(1:51). To put this all together, part of the Levite's role consists of
guarding the Mishkan from the possibility of
encroachment. Just as the census narrative (1:1-4:49) is concerned with the
possibility of trespass, so too the encampment code (5:1-3), which follows on
its heels, is concerned with the possibility of trespass.
This leads us to an even deeper
thematic element. Throughout the census narrative, the Torah focuses not just
on the physical arrangement of the camp, but also on what might be termed the
functional arrangement of the camp. As just mentioned, the Levites are counted
separately and encamp around the Mishkan because of
their unique function as porters and servants of the sanctuary (1:48-53). These
functions devolve upon the Levites by virtue of their being selected by God to
replace the first-borns, those who might have otherwise had the privilege of
serving the sanctuary (3:11-13). As the text emphasizes,
the mishmeret, or charge, function and duty of
the Levites is in fact the mishmeret, or
charge of the Israelites, one they carry out as replacements or perhaps
representatives of the Israelites (3:8-9).
In line with this functional focus,
both numberings of the Levites involve an extensive discourse on the precise
role of each subgroup of the tribe. While the first counting involves a
description of the respective general areas of Levite responsibility and their
guard duty (3:14-38), the second revolves around a precise description of each
subgroup's role in transporting the Mishkan (4:1-49).
The point of all this is that throughout
the census narrative the text defines certain physical and functional axes.
Without fail, the Mishkan remains at the center. Just as the Israelite tribes and Levite subgroups
are arranged to the four corners of the compass around the central point of Mishkan (2:1-3:38) so too the unfolding of the narrative's
text is arranged around the work of protecting and serving the central point of
Mishkan. Just as the Mishkan
travels at the center of the camp, (2:17), so too the
guarding, transportation and service of the Mishkan
stand at the conceptual center and culmination of the
narrative's movement (3:5-4:49).
None of this is coincidental. The
physical and functional arrangement relation to Mishkan
described above should be understood as reflecting a particular spiritual
arrangement and relation. The Mishkan constitutes the
dwelling place of the divine and the location of divine service. As such, the
physical and functional arrangement of the Israelite camp in the desert
naturally revolves around the Mishkan. In doing so,
the nascent Israelite society, reflected in the physical and social arrangement
of the camp, is defined as oriented around the divine, divine service and the
presence of the Divine. The structure of the community must place holiness and
sanctity at the center. But it must also worry about
how to preserve sanctity in its midst and the implications of having holiness
in the camp.
As such, once again it is no wonder
that the narrative depicting the physical, functional and spiritual arrangement
of the camp (1:1-4:49) is followed by a segment of the laws of defilement and
holiness, our story of the expulsion of the three avot
ha-tuma from the camp. Both involve the themes of
sanctity, relation to sanctity and the protection of sanctity. In contrast to
our original assumption, the opening of Bamidbar
is in fact also about some of the key themes of Sefer
Vayikra. It too is concerned with sanctity,
relation to sanctity and the safeguarding of sanctity.
Until this point, we have followed a
pragmatic line, interpreting the need for sending the metzora,
zav and tamei
la-nefesh out of the camp as stemming from a
practical danger of their trespassing upon the sanctuary. Yet haven't the
Levites already been commanded to guard the sanctuary? In light of the Levites
mandate, can the pragmatic concern of trespass be considered realistic?
For that matter, let us take a look
again at the text. The precise language of the rationale provided by the Torah
reads as follows:
shall not defile their camps amidst which I dwell. (5:3)
While this can be
interpreted as a technical reference to the presence of the Mishkan
at the center of the camp, the text makes no explicit
reference to the Mishkan. Likewise, here we have no
reference to any pragmatic issue of trespass.
A simpler reading of the text would
seem to indicate that God's presence is located in the camp itself. For this
reason, these three severely defiled individuals must be removed from the camp.
In point of fact, the Ramban (5:2) seems to adopt
this interpretation. To paraphrase the Ramban's
terminology, "It is necessary for the camp to be holy and suited for the
resting of the divine presence." The contradiction between sanctity and
defilement arises not just prospectively, in light of possible entrance into
the Mishkan or physical contact with sanctified
objects, but by virtue of the simple presence of the severely defiled in the
sanctified space of the camp. But by what virtue can the camp be said to be
holy or to comprise a place where the divine presence rests?
Quite possibly, we may explain the
simple sense of the text and the Ramban's
interpretation along rationalistic lines, amending little of what has been
argued until this point. The camp constitutes the location of the Mishkan, which in turn constitutes the "location"
of the shekhina, the divine presence. As such,
while it never can nor ever need operate according to the rules of the
sanctuary itself, some of the sanctity of the sanctuary,
and the demands of Mishkan may be said to apply to
the surrounding camp. Simply put, application of the
rules of Mishkan to the surrounding camp serve the
purpose of further emphasizing the awesome sanctity of the sanctuary.
Alternatively, on a more metaphysical note, the shadow sanctity of the larger
encampment comprises a kind of radiance or overflow of the core holiness of the
Mishkan and the divine presence.
Yet this would probably be an error.
The intent of the Ramban and perhaps the text itself
is aimed at something more wholly metaphysical. Turning our attention to the
story of the degalim, the standards around
which the Israelites encamped, should help elaborate the point.
In introducing the degalim, the Torah contents itself with a relatively
pithy description. The Torah refers to "every man by his standard, with
the signs of his father's house, around the tent of meeting shall they
encamp" (2:2). But what are these standards? What is the point of the
reference to the "sign of his father's house"? For that matter, what
is the point of the tribes being grouped into four standards, each consisting
of three tribes and then arrayed around the Mishkan?
In what might be thought of as a
minimalist interpretation of the degalim, Rashi (2:2) interprets the standards as colored
banners, the color for each tribe matching the color of the tribe's stone found in the high priest's
breastplate. As such, the banners probably serve as no more than an
organizational tool, an aid to travel or a rallying point for battle. In
contrast, the Ibn Ezra and the Ramban
present a more robust account of the standards, interpreting the "signs of
his father's house" as forms pictured upon the standards.
Based upon a Midrash
found in Bamidbar Rabba
2:6, and in accord with associations already defined in other parts of the
Torah, the Ibn Ezra formulates a correspondence
between each tribe and its respective form. For the standard of Yehuda, the form is a lion, in line with the statement of
Yaakov in his blessing to Yehuda that "Yehuda is a lion" (Bereishit
49:9). For Reuven, the shape pictured upon the standard is a man. It was Reuven
who found the dudaim, the plant carrying the
power of fertility and the ability to make a man (Bereishit
Based upon the blessing of Moshe (Devarim 33:17), the standard of Ephraim carries a
picture of an ox, and finally, although the source is obscure, the Ibn Ezra maintains that the standard of Dan bore the image
of an eagle. Strange claims for an exegete we expect to explicate the simple
meaning of the text. Putting this point aside for the moment, the exegesis of
the Ibn Ezra and the Ramban
regarding the images depicted upon the four chief standards grouped around the Miskan creates a fascinating parallel.
The Book of Yechezkel,
in describing Yechezkel's vision of the merkava, the divine chariot upon which the divine
throne and presence rides, depicts a vision of four heavenly creatures who
comprise the chariot. These creatures have four faces, the face of a man, the
face of a lion, the face of a ox and the face of an eagle (Yechezkel
1:10). But these are of course the images found on the standards of Yehuda, Reuven, Ephraim and Dan.
As the Ibn Ezra formulates things: "The degalim
resembled the keruvim, the divine creatures
seen by Yechezkel" (2:2). In a similar
vein, the Ramban (2:3) approvingly cites a Midrash claiming that God created four directions in the
world, surrounded his throne with four heavenly creatures to bear his throne,
and in accord arranged for Moshe the degalim.
While the theology remains somewhat obscure, the literary claim should be
obvious. The encampment of Israel,
the arrangement of the tribes into four degalim
surrounding the Mishkan, is meant to parallel the
imagery of Yechezkel's vision. Just as the heavenly
creatures surround and bear the throne of the divine, so too the camp of Israel
surrounds and bears the Mishkan, the seat of the
divine presence. The theological or metaphysical significance of the parallel
should be interpreted accordingly. Just as the divine creatures of Yechezkel's vision accompany and bear the throne of God
upon its heavenly journey, so too the camp of Israel accompanies and bears the
throne of God upon its earthly journey.
A brief return to the concrete world
of texts should help strengthen and simultaneously clarify this latter, very
metaphysical statement. While the Ibn Ezra and the Ramban do not make the point, Yechezkel
1:24 compares the sound of the creatures and the
divine chariot to the sound of a "camp." In addition to this connection
to the opening of Bamidbar, Yechezkel's vision of the divine first manifests itself as
"a great cloud and fire" (1:4). This of course is the very image of
the divine presence that accompanies Israel and its camp in the desert.
A cloud and fire cover the Mishkan upon its
completion (Shemot 40:34-38) and during the
ensuing journey (Bamidbar 9:15-16). This dual
parallel between the vision narrative in Yechezkel
and the encampment narrative in Bamidbar
implies that we confront the same story in both cases, the transportation of
the divine presence by God's merkava, or
chariot. The process occurs in both the heavenly and earthly realms.
But there is more to it than just
parallel processes. The second book of Shemuel
refers to the ark as "the ark of God, whose name is called the Lord of
hosts (tzeva'ot) who dwells upon the keruvim" (II Shemuel
6:2). The creatures of Yechezkel's vision are known
as keruvim. They possess an earthly
counterpart, the keruvim stationed on top of
the ark, whose outstretched arms form the throne of God. In the language of Shemuel, God can be said to "dwell upon" the keruvim and ark. But as fitting the King of kings,
God is also accompanied by hosts or assemblies, known as tzeva'ot.
The divine chariot is born and accompanied on its journey by the heavenly
angelic assembly. But what is the earthly counterpart of God's heavenly host?
The resolution to this question may
lie back in Sefer Shemot.
During his dialogue with Moshe that proceeds the unleashing of the plagues
upon Egypt, God informs Moshe, "I will lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring
out my hosts (tzivotai), my people, the
Children of Israel from Egypt" (Shemot
7:4). Similarly, the story that opens Bamidbar
constitutes another story of God's tzava, his
host or assembly, the Children of Israel. It is in fact the story of his
earthly host or assembly, which escorts, accompanies and bears his presence as
earthly counterpart to his heavenly host.
By this point, both the metaphysics
of the Ibn Ezra's and the Ramban's
interpretation of the degalim as well as the
implicit approach to the opening narratives of Bamidbar
should be clear. The entire camp of Israel constitutes a microcosm of
the heavenly macrocosm, a parallel construction to the divine realm. This is
the point of the organization according to standards. As such the camp serves
to bear the divine presence, not just in the Mishkan,
upon and between the keruvim, but in the
entire camp itself.
The census narratives (1:1-4) are
not just about counting, or even physical, functional or even spiritual
organization. Rather they also form a type of metaphysical organization, where
the camp is organized as an echo of the divine realm and the divine presence is
brought to the entire camp.
To close the circle, in light of the
above interpretation of the degalim as
a kind of merkava and the organization
of the camp as far more than a mere physical arrangement, we no longer need
wonder about the language of the rationale provided by the Torah for the
removal of the metzora, zav
and tamei la-nefesh
from the camp. Likewise we no longer need wonder about the meaning of the Ramban's claim that "it is necessary for the camp to
be holy and suited for the resting of the divine presence." As a microcosm
of the divine merkava and resting place of the
divine presence, the entire camp is holy. The contradiction between sanctity
and defilement must be avoided in the camp itself. Consequently, the severe cases
of defilement, those defiled by tzara'at, zav, or death must be removed from the camp. The laws
in question, and the placement of our short code of defilement and sanctity
(5:1-3), follow naturally on the heels of the census narratives (1:1-4:49), the
metaphysical organization of the camp as tzeva'ot
Hashem, the earthly assembly bearing and
animated by the divine presence.
Finally, from this perspective the
opening of Bamidbar constitutes more than just
a continuation of Sefer Vayikra
and its key concerns of holiness, defilement and the sanctuary. In a
certain sense, Sefer Bamdibar
can also be thought of as a continuation of a key theme central to the book of Shemot. As mentioned earlier, Shemot
25:8 reports the true telos of constructing the Mishkan, "And I will dwell amongst them,"
and the book ends with the arrival of the divine presence in the Mishkan (40:34-35). But in some sense, as the beginning of Bamidbar reminds us, the divine presence has in fact
arrived amidst the entire community of Israel. The end of Shemot is only the beginning of the story. Sefer Bamidbar is
in fact where this theme plays out, the story of what happens when God dwells
amongst the Children of Israel.
Note: Based upon the
Ibn Ezra and the Ramban,
the second half of the shiur above develops a
theory of the metaphysical organization of the camp and a notion of the divine
presence as resting in the entire camp. As such it comprises a good
introduction to another topic, the moral conditions for the divine presence in
the camp. In my opinion, ideally, these two issues should always be considered
in tandem. Due to considerations of space, this topic was omitted from the
above shiur. The issue emerges from Bamidbar 5:5-31, the two segments following the parasha dealt with in the above shiur. Some of this material can be found in
questions three and four below.
1) See Vayikra
13:45-46 and Vayikra 14:2-3. Now look at Vayikra 15:1-5, 13-14. Now compare this to Bamidbar 19:1-10. Where are the zav
and tamei la-nefesh?
Now reread Bamidbar 5:1-3 and see Rashi 5:2. What is the textual basis for Rashi's claim? Try to relate this to the themes discussed
in the shiur above.
2) Read the Ramban's
introduction to Sefer Bamidbar.
Now see the Ramban's comments to Shemot 25:1. In light of these comments, how does Bamidbar comprise the continuation of Shemot?
3) Scan 5:1-6:27. How can the text be
divided? See Ibn Ezra 5:4 and Ramban
5:5. What central question raised in the shiur
above should be raised regarding this material?
Try to formulate the Ibn Ezra and the Ramban's solutions. Evaluate their solutions to the
problem. See Rashi 5:12. Try to formulate a
comprehensive theory for Bamidbar 1:1-6:27.
4) See 5:6, 5:12 and Vayikra
26:40. See Shemot 32:19-20. What is the
connection? Now see Shemot
33:6-10. What are the conditions for the divine presence remaining in the camp?