SALT - Tuesday, 8 Sivan 5778 - May 22, 2018


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  • Rav David Silverberg
            We read in Parashat Naso of God’s command that Benei Yisrael send away from their camp those who had become tamei (ritually impure).  God specifies three categories of impurity – those with the tzara’at skin infection, those who have experienced bodily emissions, and those who had come in contact with a human corpse (5:2).  Rashi, citing from Masekhet Pesachim (67a-b), explains that different laws apply to these three categories of temei’imTzara’at marks the most stringent form, as it required remaining outside the entire Israelite camp, whereas those who had experienced emissions were barred only from area of the Mishkan and the area of the Leviyim, and those who had come in contact with corpses were barred only from the area of the Mishkan.
            The Torah then tells of Benei Yisrael’s compliance with these laws: “The Israelites did so, and they sent them [those with impurity] outside the camp, as the Lord had told Moshe – so did the Israelites do” (5:4).  Many writers noted the seemingly redundant conclusion, “so did the Israelites do.”  Once the Torah had told us that Benei Yisrael “did so,” why did it then conclude, “so did the Israelites do”?
            Chizkuni, based on the Sifrei, explains that these two phrases refer, respectively, to the nation generally, and to those who were impure.  The Torah tells us that the nation implemented the policy that God had commanded – requiring the barring of the various groups of impure individuals – and that those individuals cooperated and agreed to leave the areas from which they were barred during their period of impurity.
            A different, creative explanation is cited in the name of the Bina Le-itim, who suggested that the implementation of this policy, barring the impure from the camp, was accompanied by a process of reflection and introspection on the part of everyone else.  Tzara’at, the severest form of ritual impurity, which requires a person to live in isolation outside the camp, is viewed as a punishment for various misdeeds, primarily, interpersonal offenses.  When the Torah reiterated, “so did the Israelites do,” it means that they went further than simply banishing those stricken with tzara’at, and resolved to ensure that they themselves would not experience this impurity.  Rather than simply send away those who had already contracted tzara’at, they also looked into themselves and made a commitment to improve their interpersonal conduct so that there would be no more tzara’at in the nation.
            There are times when it becomes necessary to “banish” certain forms of “impurity” from our midst, when we need to take a stand against improper ideas or conduct and loudly proclaim that they have no place within our camp.  Too often, however, such “banishment” ends up becoming nothing more than an ugly display of hubris, an opportunity to proudly affirm our superiority.  There is something unseemly, and even dangerous, about condemning “impurity” in a condescending manner, as though we see ourselves as perfect and need simply to send away the “impure” in order for our camp to be what it is supposed to be.  The Bina Le-itim teaches us that the process of eliminating “impurity” must be accompanied by our own process of introspection, that we cannot criticize and condemn others without concomitantly searching within ourselves to identify our own flaws and working to correct them.