By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
June 2, 2001
ONCE THE MISHKAN is set up in the center, the Israelite camp becomes the dwelling place of the Divine Presence. Therefore, in order to maintain the sanctity of the camp, we are taught:
And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Command the Children of Israel, that they send out of the camp every tzaru'a (one afflicted by a disease as described in Vayikra 13:1-45) and every zav (one who has a discharge) and whoever is defiled by the dead. Both male and female shall you send out, outside the camp shall you send them, that they do not defile their camps, in the midst of which I dwell. And the Children of Israel did so, and they sent them outside of the camp; as Hashem spoke to Moshe, so did the Children of Israel do (Bamidbar 5:1-4).
AS THE SAGES TELL US (Pesachim 67a), three concentric camps were eventually set up in the wilderness. First, on the outside, was the Israelite camp, where all the tribes encamped. Within this camp was the Levite camp, where the three divisions of the tribe of Levi and the
Kohanim, encamped. At the center was the camp of the
Shechina, defined as the precincts of the Mishkan, within the curtains. The Torah's ideal is "and your camp shall be holy" (Devarim 23:15), which means the entire camp.
SANCTITY IS INCOMPATIBLE with tum'ah (a spiritual state of transitory impurity, caused by physical conditions). The camp is maintained with order, decorum and honor, as though it were a king's palace. Clearly, these three camps have increasing levels of sanctity. Tum'ah, as well, has increasing levels of intensity. Chizkuni (R. Chizkiya ben Manoach, mid-13th Century) makes the point that, in the command to the Children of Israel, the verb SHALACH (send out) is mentioned three times, indicating three degrees of exclusion for the three classes of those who are t'me'im for seven days.
CONSEQUENTLY, the camp requires increasing levels of exclusion of the three t'me'im, as mentioned above:
- TZARU'A: his condition is the most severe, because he imparts tum'ah, even by merely entering a tent or house; therefore he is excluded from all three camps and lives beyond the boundaries.
- ZAVIM (which includes various conditions produced by bodily discharges, such as a man with a seminal discharge, a menstruating woman or a woman who has given birth): their condition is less severe, because they do not convey tum'ah via the tent or house. They do impart tum'ah by sitting on the same seat as another; therefore, they are excluded from the two inner camps, but they are permitted in the Israelite camp.
- ONE WHO HAS HAD CONTACT WITH THE DEAD: his condition is the least severe of the three, because he imparts tum'ah only through direct physical contact. Therefore, he is excluded only from the camp of the
THE REQUIREMENT TO MAINTAIN THE SANCTITY of the camp was not confined exclusively to the historic period of the sojourn in the wilderness. Ultimately, when the Temple was built, these designations were transferred to different regions within Jerusalem, and these three types of t'me'im were excluded accordingly. Since these are commandments for all times, the Rambam includes them in his Book of the Commandments. (In fact, even after the destruction of the Temple, the Temple Mount retains its sanctity, and therefore these mitzvot still apply today.)
AS ELUCIDATED BY THE SEFER HACHINUCH (ascribed to R. Aharon HaLevi of Barcelona, mid-13th Century), following the Rambam's definitions, there are two separate, though interdependent, commandments here. The Chinuch lists them as
- COMMANDMENT 362: a positive mitzvah, to send the t'me'im out of the camp.
- COMMANDMENT 363: a negative mitzvah, prohibiting the t'me'im from entering the camp.
ANY ONE OF THESE T'ME'IM must restrict his movements in the camp. In addition, one who becomes
tamei must immediately remove himself to the areas permitted to him. Knowingly entering the Temple while tamei, for example, results in the Divine punishment of spiritual excision called karet.
WHEN FIRST PROMULGATED, we might have thought that it was difficult to persuade the three types of t'me'im to remove themselves to their restricted areas. Nevertheless, the Torah states:
And the Children of Israel did so, and they sent them outside of the camp; as Hashem spoke to Moshe, so did the Children of Israel do.
IBN-EZRA SAYS THAT THEY COMPLIED immediately. The Sifri adds that the t'me'im themselves did not stand in the way of carrying out the command, and did not have to be coerced.
Malbim says that the t'mei'm did not conceal their condition. Clearly, these people understood the command in the spirit it was intended - that it was for the glory of Hashem that they cooperate.
MALBIM AND TORAH TEMIMAH (R. Baruch ben Yechiel Michel HaLevi Epstein, 1860-1942) see two levels of responsibility here: it is the duty of the court to see to it that the t'me'im are removed, as well as the duty of the t'me'im themselves, that they should remove themselves and not refuse.
BUT THE RAMBAM AND THE SEFER HACHINUCH go further. They maintain that the sanctity of the camp is the duty of everyone, not just the Sanhedrin. This bilateral responsibility is indicated by the repetitions in the verse: twice, it says that they did as they were commanded; also, "the Children of Israel" is repeated in the verse. It is an obligation of the tzibbur, the community, in which every member takes part. When the t'me'im remove themselves, they are fulfilling their individual duties as the afflicted parties, as well as their duties as members of the klal, the Children of Israel. Rather than exclude them from the people, these commandments actually increase their sense of duty to the community.
ALL OF ISRAEL, without exception, are united in a common goal, to create and maintain Hashem's ideal society.