Degrees of Exile (Naso)
What makes loneliness an anguish is not that I have no one to share my burden, but this: I have only my own burden to bear. — Dag Hammarskjold
The Torah reading of Naso, among many other things, touches on exiling people of different status from the encampment of Israel. The verse states:
“Instruct the Israelites to remove from camp anyone with Tzaraat or a discharge (a Zav) and anyone defiled by a corpse. Remove male and female alike; put them outside the camp so that they do not defile the camp of those in whose midst I dwell.”
The Bat Ayin on Numbers 5:2 analyses the various types of statuses and notices that each has a different level of exile in relation to the different levels of the Israelite encampment in the desert. The innermost camp is the Machane Shechina, the camp where God’s presence is most concentrated, namely the Tabernacle that was in the center of the camp. The second level is the Machane Leviya, the Levite camp, which immediately surrounded the Tabernacle. The third level is the Machane Yisrael, the Israelite camp, which is the remainder of the tribes of Israel who were camped outside the perimeter of the Levite camp.
A person who was afflicted with Tzaraat, typically associated with grave interpersonal sins, like gossip-mongering, is exiled from all three camps. They are completely exiled from the tribes of Israel. A person who sins in that fashion, at the time of sinning is as if they are saying “I have no part in Israel.” Hence, their symbolic physical exile from the dwelling place of the nation. That is until they repudiate their sin, repent, and return to the camp of Israel.
A person who has an impure discharge, a Zav, is exiled, or more practically, not allowed in the Levite camp. The Bat Ayin explains the comparison to a person who isn’t necessarily actively sinning but is not engaged with either Torah or good deeds. They are still part of Israel but don’t merit entering the more exalted Levite camp.
A person who has come in touch with a corpse is allowed in the Levite camp, but is not allowed in the Machane Shechina, in the area of the Tabernacle. This person is compared to someone who is not an active sinner and is engaged in Torah and good deeds. However, their mind and their spirit are not in regular communion with God. Only a person who has God constantly on their mind merits to dwell in the innermost camp of God.
That level of communion is hinted at in Psalms 16:8 “I will place God in front of me, always.” It is achieved by understanding the façade of our physical reality and realizing that God is ultimately behind everything. It is achieved by having faith in God and comprehending what our true responsibilities are. It is achieved by remaining focused on what acts have eternal significance and which are of fleeting value.
May we strive to get as close to the inner camp as possible.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Shavuot Sameach,
To the memory of Rabbi Seth Mandel, my friend and teacher. May his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.