The Sanctity of the Camp in the Wake of the Setting Up of the Mishkan

  • Rav Yoel Bin-Nun
Netanel Ilan ben Shayna Tzippora (Felber),
injured 5 months ago in a terrorist attack, and still in a coma,
among all the other sick people – today, the 23rd of Iyar, is Netanel's birthday.
19:00 Israel Time.
Vayikra and Bamidbar: Two Parallel Continuations of the Book of Shemot
            The book of Bamidbar was arranged in such a way that it follows the book of Vayikra, despite the fact that with respect to its contents and chronology, Bamidbar parallels Vayikra. Both books are continuations of the book of Shemot, like two branches issuing from a single trunk. The difference between them is that whereas Vayikra is directed inward, toward the Holy, Bamidbar is directed toward the camp, the people of Israel and its twelve tribes.
            The parallel between the books follows from an examination of the chronology. The setting up of the Mishkan appears in the last chapter of the book of Shemot:
And it came to pass in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the Mishkan was erected. (Shemot 40:17)
            The book of Vayikra (chapter 8) describes the seven days of milu'im (inauguration) as a direct continuation of the setting up of the Mishkan.[1] This execution is a fulfillment of the command at the end of the parashiyot dealing with the Mishkan (Shemot 29). Afterwards, we read in Vayikra 9-10 about the "eighth day," on which Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aharon, died. Later (Vayikra 16), we find the command to Aharon to enter the Holy of Holies "within the veil" – "after the death of the two sons of Aharon."
            In parallel fashion, we read in the book of Bamidbar about the offerings brought by the tribal princes for the bearing of the Mishkan and the dedication of the altar, "on the day that Moshe made an end of setting up the Mishkan" (Bamidbar 7:1), and afterwards about the appointment of the Levites (chapter 8) and about the Pesach offering that was brought in the wilderness and the command regarding Pesach Sheni (chapter 9), which was given "in the first month of the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt" (Bamidbar 9:1). Later, we once again return to the day of the setting up of the Mishkan, the cloud and the journeys (Bamidbar 10:15-23), and the journey itself (10:11-28).
            From all of this it is clear that "the law of the priests" and their induction into the service, together with "the law of the offerings" (Vayikra 7:37-38) and "the laws of impurities and purities" (Vayikra, chapters 11-15), are a continuation of the setting up of the Mishkan (end of the book of Shemot) in the sense of the inner sanctity. The book of Bamidbar, on the other hand, describes and spells out in detail the preparations for the journey, the camps and the standards "around the tent of meeting" (Bamidbar 2:2), all of which belong to the external sanctity of the entire people of Israel, who camped, in accordance with their tribes and their standards, around the Holy.
            In this context, it is interesting that we find the Levites, the replacements of the firstborns, serving as guardians of the Holy in the course of the disassembly of the Mishkan and in the journey. They are found together with the tribes of Israel, encamped with their standards in the camps that surround the Holy, and with the princes, and not together with the priests inside the Holy.
            Clear proof that the books of Vayikra and Bamidbar are two parallel continuations of the book of Shemot is found in the final verses in the book of Shemot (40:34-38). The three last verses, which deal with the cloud and the journey, are not at all connected to the book of Vayikra; their clear continuation is in chapter 10 of the book of Bamidbar. This is evident in the following table:
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan. And Moshe was not able to enter into the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan. (Shemot 40:34-38)
And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the Mishkan,[2] the children of Israel went onward, throughout all their journeys. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was upon the Mishkan by day, and there was fire therein by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys. (Bamidbar 10:15-23) 
And the Lord called to Moshe, and spoke to him out of the tent of meeting, saying. (Vayikra 1:1)
            In the final verses of the book of Shemot, we uncover the inner dimension of the Holy, in the revelation of "the glory of the Lord" that "filled the Mishkan" on the inside while the cloud covered it from the outside and led the journeys. It stands to reason that the cloud expresses the external sanctity, whereas the glory of the Lord fills the Mishkan with inner sanctity which allows for the service to be conducted in the Holy in purity, the primary concern of the book of Vayikra.
The Main Elements of the External Sanctity: [3] The Army, The Camps and the Journey Toward Eretz Yisrael
            In light of this, we understand why the book of Bamidbar opens with the census of the army and with the arrangement of the camps in anticipation of the journey.
            Chapter 1 describes the census for the army of Israel. The principle that is repeated (2 + 12 times in the chapter) is: "according to the number of names." The count is not of people, in order to turn them into soldiers "who are able to go forth to war" (as is common in armies to this very day), but rather of "names" – each soldier with his personal name and his personal uniqueness.
            "Number" and "name" are two opposite ideas. A person's name distinguishes him from all other people, whereas a person's identification number together with his uniform cancels his individuality and transforms the soldier into a part of the army, a mass of fighters. Such a concentration of individuals creates a great force to decide the outcome of a war, while putting some of the soldiers into mortal danger.
            How do we establish an army in which the numbers and the military profile that determines compatibility for particular military roles and units ("all that are able to go forth to war") do not erase the names?
            The Torah's answer is that every soldier brings with him his affiliation to his family and to his tribe: "their generations, by their families, by their fathers' houses." The army of Israel is an army of the people that is built on tribes and families.
            In no beit midrash – within a Yeshiva framework or that of the IDF – is this issue studied in an orderly fashion. Nor will you find such a commandment in the various books of the commandments. But the founders of the IDF understood this principle in depth, and the IDF makes every effort to preserve the connection between each and every soldier and his family. The IDF is an army (to the best of my knowledge, the only such army in the world) that lives on its furloughs, on each soldier's connection to his family, even in wartime.
            I was in the city of Suez during the Yom Kippur War for about four months. The air force landed planes across the Suez Canal at great risk, just to take soldiers out on furloughs, to maintain contact with their families.
            Enlisting in the IDF does not sever the soldier's connection to his family. Rather, it brings the family to the army!
“Every Man With His Own Standard”
            The people of Israel already experienced warfare immediately upon leaving Egypt. They saw the army of Pharaoh pursue them and drown in the Sea of Suf, and they actively participated in the war with Amalek at Refidim, where Yehoshua chose "men" for the campaign. These wars helped fashion the freedom of the nation leaving Egypt, even before the establishment of an organized army.
            In our day as well, the War of Independence broke out before the IDF was established; it was the volunteer fighters of the Haganah and the Palmach who bore the brunt of the most difficult battles.
            The first mission of the organized army in the wilderness was not fighting battles and wars, but rather organizing the camp in anticipation of the journey through the wilderness to the land of Israel, according to tribes and standards. This organization was meant to end the anarchy that apparently prevailed from the time of the exodus from Egypt, anarchy that reached its climax and breaking-point in the sin involving the golden calf. The important task of arranging the camp stood at the center of the organization of the people in the wilderness around the Tent of Meeting. Its importance only increases the better we understand the deep gap between the people of Israel and its tribes, and order and organization.
            The journey from the Sea of Suf to Chorev, as well as the war against Amalek, were apparently conducted "in haste" (Devarim 16:3) and with improvised organization. It is interesting that this is the way we behave to this very day – improvising creative solutions on the move. It seems that a people does not change even after thousands of years of wandering!
            Leading the reorganization of the camp in the wilderness according to tribes fell upon the tribe of Yehuda, a tribe of natural leadership. Yehuda was the naturel leader in the days of Yaakov and his sons, and later as well. It is to Nachshon the son of Aminadav, the tribe of Yehuda's leader at the time of the exodus from Egypt and in the wilderness, that Chazal attributed leading the people of Israel into the Sea of Suf, in the face of the grave threat of Pharaoh's chariots.
            The census was conducted according to the order of the tribes "according to their generations," with Reuven first, and Shimon following. Only Gad (the firstborn of Leah's maidservant) broke the order, entering in place of Levi. But the organization of the camps and the standards was led by the tribe of Yehuda, together with Yissachar and Zevulun; hence the change in order from chapter 1 to chapter 2.
            The order of the sons of Yosef remained unchanged: Ephraim led the sons of Yosef (as in the blessing of Yaakov, Bereishit 48:14-20), and afterwards Menashe, with Binyamin closing the sons of Rachel.
            Since Gad advanced to fill the place of Levi, Asher was left on his own, and so he entered between the sons of Bilha, Dan and Naftali. 
The Firstborns to the Levites
            The holy service of the people of Israel was originally assigned to the firstborns, whose sanctity from the womb destined them to that service. The miracle of the salvation of the firstborns at the time of the exodus from Egypt sealed their selection:
Sanctify to Me all the firstborn, whatsoever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast, it is Mine. (Shemot 13:2).
            This system had two great advantages:
1. Every family in Israel had a "priest"; in every house, they could worship God, just as they offered the Pesach offering in Egypt in every house, where the doorposts and lintel at the entrance to the house served as an "altar." This is popular, family-oriented worship of God, as opposed to centralized service.
2. Within the family, there was no room to quarrel about "the priesthood," because the firstborn was chosen by God from the time of his birth: "whatsoever opens the womb." While it is true that occasionally a younger son is more appropriate for the priesthood, opening the priesthood to younger sons would lead to endless quarrels.
            Only a year had passed since the exodus from Egypt, and God had already changed everything, replacing the firstborns with the tribe of Levi, as part of one central Mishkan. What is the source of this change?
            We explained above that the precise and orderly organization came in sharp contrast to the anarchy that effectively ruled in the year of the exodus from Egypt. To this we must add the sin involving the golden calf, at which time the anarchy reached its climax; without Moshe and Yehoshua, who were on Mount Sinai, the leadership fell apart. According to Chazal, the second leader in the camp, Chur from the tribe of Yehuda, did not simply disappear from the story, but was murdered, and the sin of the golden calf was therefore also a civil war. Aharon, who "loved peace, and pursued peace" with his entire being, tried to stop the civil war by lending a hand in the casting of the golden calf and the celebration around it.[4] Three thousand people were killed in that war, and it was impossible to continue without some reorganization.
            The inevitable solution was one central Mishkan, which the tribe of Levi guarded on all sides. Anyone who wished to approach the Tent of Meeting had to pass through the camps of the families of the Levites.
The Role of the Levites – Twofold Guarding
            The Levite families were considered a two-sided defensive belt: protecting the Mishkan and its vessels from attempts at desecration from the outside, and no less important, defending the Israelites against the wrath of God, which had already erupted not only at the time of the sin of the golden calf, but also at the time of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu.
            The double protection against desecration and the prevention of disaster was especially necessary when organizing for the journeys. The Mishkan as a "wandering Mount Sinai," with the fire that it carried within, required exceptional guarding every time it was disassembled and reassembled anew. Aharon and his sons would cover the ark of the testimony, the "Holy of Holies," with the veil, without exposing it at all, and the children of Kehat would carry the vessels on their shoulders with due caution and respect. The covers of the vessels allowed for the identification of the ark of the testimony from afar, because of the cloth of blue that was spread over it alone.
            The responsibility for the operation was placed in the hands of Elazar and Itamar, the death of their brothers standing before them at all times as a flashing warning light.
            People served in the army of Israel from the age of 20 to the age of 60, whereas the labor force of the Levites required special endurance and work capability, and so they served "from thirty years and up until fifty years" (4:3, 23, 30, 35, 39, 47). Later (8:24) it is stated that the Levites "shall go in to perform the service in the work of the tent of meeting" already at the age of twenty-five. Chazal explain (Rashi, ad loc.) that the training of the Levites for their dangerous and arduous tasks lasted for five years.
            From time to time we hear (also according to the Rambam at the end of Hilkhot Shemita Ve-Yovel) that today's Yeshiva students, who dedicate themselves to Torah study, are similar to the Levites, who did not serve in the army of Israel because they were dedicated to service in the Tent of Meeting. I would call upon these Yeshiva students to volunteer for rescue and life-saving missions, especially in times of emergency, and thereby truly approach the level of the Levites in the wilderness.
Translated by David Strauss

[1] Seder Olam (chapter 7) advances the seven days of inauguration to the end of the twelfth month (beginning with the 23rd of Adar), so that the eighth day falls out on the first day of the first month (Nisan). This view is also presented in Shabbat 87b and by Rashi (Vayikra 9:1), and at length in the Ramban (Shemot 40:1). Ibn Ezra raised many objections to this approach in his long commentary to Shemot 40:1; the Ramban's resolutions of these objections are very forced. Ibn Ezra also alludes that R. Akiva disagrees with this view, as he identifies those who were impure because of contact with a corpse at the time of the Pesach offering brought in the wilderness with Elitzafan and Uziel, who removed the bodies of Nadav and Avihu on the eighth day (Sifrei, Beha'alotekha 68). In light of this, he reads everything on one simple time line. In that case, we must say that the seven days of inauguration together with the eighth day (Vayikra 8 and 9) fell out parallel to the days of dedicating the altar on the part of the tribal princes (Bemidbar 7, until the 8th prince). This reading is difficult to accept unless we understand the fundamental parallel between Vayikra and Bemidbar and between the priests and their inner service, and the tribes, the princes, and the Levites around about them.
[2] The verses in Bemidbar: "And on the day that the Mishkan was reared up the cloud covered the Mishkan… And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tent, then after that the children of Israel journeyed…" (9:15-23), are clearly an expansion of the verses at the end of Shemot.   
[3] One of the important novel ideas of R. Kook is his illumination of the relationship between the holy inner essence of the people of Israel and its external garb, that which reveals itself even in military exercises. See, for example, his comments on exercise (Orot Ha-Techiya 33-34, Orot, p. 80). It is important to understand that the sports clubs in his days were a vital cover for military exercises. These words gave rise in their time to a piercing debate and strong resistance primarily against the idea that "the people of Israel" have an "external garb," "a sanctity in nature," and not only "inner sanctity." A deep examination of the Torah clearly reveals the profundity of R. Kook's understanding, as the relationship between Vayikra and Bemidbar is precisely the relationship between inner sanctity and external sanctity that expresses itself in a census, in the army, and in the journeys to the land of Israel and the wars fought over it.
[4] When Moshe ascended Mount Sinai with Yehoshua, he said to the elders: "And, behold, Aharon and Chur are with you; whosoever has a cause, let him come near to them" (Shemot 24:14). But in the section dealing with the sin of the golden calf, Chur is not mentioned! One might have thought that he was old and had died, for Betzalel his grandson built the Mishkan, but Chazal understood differently (Vayikra Rabba 10:3): "When Israel did that act, at first they went to Chur… When he did not listen to them, they stood up against him and killed him… This is the meaning of what is written: 'And when Aharon saw this, he built an altar before it' (Shemot 32:5) – he was frightened by the slaughter before him." See also Rashi, Shemot ad loc.
To this we must add the familial connection between Aharon and the leadership of the tribe of Yehuda (Shemot 6:23), including Chur, and the vacuum left in the leadership of the tribe of Ephraim and the descendants of Yosef by Yehoshua's ascent of the mountain with Moshe. Of course, we must also take into account the calves made by Yerovam the son of Nevat from the tribe of Ephraim at the time of the division of the monarchy and the deterioration to a continuous civil war between the two monarchies. When Hillel the Elder said (Avot 1:12), "Be you of the disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace," he most certainly had in mind this explanation of the selection of Aharon to the High Priesthood after the sin of the golden calf – that Aharon's surrender to the people with regard to the calf was meant to stop a civil war.