Three Camps of Holiness
כָּל־יְמֵי אֲשֶׁר הַנֶּגַע בּוֹ יִטְמָא טָמֵא הוּא בָּדָד יֵשֵׁב מִחוּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶה מוֹשָׁבֽוֹ:
All the days the lesion is upon him, he shall remain unclean. He is unclean; he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.
[Vayikra (Leviticus) 13:46]
מחוץ למחנה - חוץ לשלש מחנות:
“Outside the camp” – outside the three camps. Rashi
The Source for Division into Three Camps
In the wilderness Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) was divided into three camps: the place of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was the Camp of the Shechina, surrounding that was the Camp of the Levites, and surrounding that was the Camp of Israel. This division is described in the verses:
"וחנו בני ישראל איש על מחנהו ואיש על דגלו לצבאותם, והלויים יחנו סביב למשכן העדות ולא יהיה קצף על עדת בני ישראל ושמרו הלויים את משמרת משכן העדות"
The children of Israel shall encamp, each man by his own camp and each man by his division. The Levites shall encamp around the Tabernacle of the Testimony, so that there be no wrath upon the congregation of the children of Israel and the Levites shall keep the charge of the Tabernacle of the Testimony.
[Bamidbar (Numbers) 1:52-53]
Rashi [v.53] explains that the Levites’ “charge of the Mishkan” was to prevent the ordinary Israelites from entering to do the service of the Mishkan. Thus, the Camp of the Levites was necessary as a barrier, to allow the Levites to warn the Israelites not to approach the Camp of the Shechina.
The three camps existed within Eretz Yisrael as well: the Camp of the Shechina was from the Courtyard of Israel through the Courtyard of Kohanim and the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) itself, the Camp of the Levites was the Har HaBayit (Temple Mount) from the eastern edge of the Courtyard of Israel outward, while the remainder of the walled city of Jerusalem was the Camp of Israel.
Sending Out the Impure
The Torah mandates that three types of ritually impure (tamei) people are to be sent out of the camps:
"צו את בני ישראל וישלחו מן המחנה כל צרוע וכל זב וכל טמא לנפש"
Command the children of Israel to banish from the camp all those afflicted with tzara’at (generally, but incorrectly, translated as “leprosy”) or with a male discharge (zav), and all those impure through (contact with) the dead (tamei met).
Chazal (Our Sages) [Gemara Pesaḥim 67a] determined that the banishment of one afflicted with tzara’at was not the same as that of the zav or tamei met; thus, the verse quoted above states “He shall dwell alone …” - that is, he is banished beyond the areas of banishment for those with the other types of impurity. In turn, the banishment of the zav is greater than that of tamei met. Each type of tamei is banished from the camps which are inappropriate for his level of impurity.
What is the significance of the division into the three camps, and why is one stricken with tzara’at banished from all three camps?
Elements of Social Life, Moral Life and Life in General
Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch asserts that the banishment of each type of tamei is in accordance with the characteristics of the camps from which he is banished. Chazal taught that tzara’at is punishment for social harm:
"הוא הבדיל בין איש לאשתו, לפיכך אמרה תורה: 'בדד ישב'"
He separated a husband from his wife, a man from his neighbor, therefore the Torah said: “He shall dwell alone.”
[Gemara Arachin 16b]
Speaking lashon hara has a significant detrimental impact. Thus, one stricken with tzara’at must leave society and dwell alone.
The zav, whose sin consists of inappropriate sexual desires, is banished from the Camp of the Levites. The Levites and Kohanim are the teachers of Torah, and of them Scripture says "כי שפתי כהן ישמרו דעת ותורה יבקשו מפיהו כי מלאך ד' צבאות הוא" (“For a priest’s lips shall guard knowledge, and teaching should be sought from his mouth, for he is a messenger of the Lord of Hosts”) [Malachi 2:7]. The teachers of Torah are required to demonstrate greater moral caution and a higher level of sanctity because Torah is the guide for our lives, it refines the world in its entirety, and it is not merely a source of wisdom which influences external behavior while remaining disconnected from life. Therefore, Chazal taught: "זכה נעשית לו סם חיים, לא זכה נעשית לו סם המוות" (“If he is meritorious it (Torah) becomes for him a medicine of life, if not, a deadly poison” [Gemara Yoma 72b].
One who has become tamei as the result of contact with a dead body, on some level is distanced from God. The approach of Torah stands in opposition to that of idolatry, in which the deity’s power is its ability to kill humans; Torah’s approach is that man’s ability to exert free will and choose to do good in his life is a gift of God and the true sanctification and glorification of His name. This is conveyed by the verses: “For the grave shall not thank You, nor shall death praise You … The living, the living, he shall thank You.” [Isaiah 38:18-19]
The Nature of the Camps in Eretz Yisrael
We may explain that the nature of the three camps is connected to their division within Eretz Yisrael. The Camp of the Shechina, which begins at the Courtyard of Israel and continues inward, towards and including the Beit HaMikdash, is the place where the mitzvot which constitute the Temple service and which require the Kohanim to be clothed in Temple garb are performed; as well, it is the place where sacrifices are offered, expressing closeness to God. Indeed, Ramban [commentary on Vayikra (Leviticus) 1:9] connects the idea of sacrifices (korban) with coming close to God (karov). Entering the Har HaBayit, which is the Camp of Levites, requires immersion in a mikva to achieve purity from tum’ah which issues from the body, representing various bodily powers which were wasted through being connected merely to tangible things and not to holiness. Thus, explains Rabbi Hirsch, the examination of the zav is to determine whether the discharge was caused by excessive eating or drinking or by licentious thoughts of about women. [Mishna Zavim 2:2] Jerusalem, the Camp of Israel, which unites all Israel in brotherhood [Jerusalem Talmud, Bava Kama 7:7], must be the place of social and moral rectification for all the pilgrims as they experience the sanctity of the place.
There Are Numerous Levels Within the World
In truth, we must say that one who is afflicted with tzara’at is banished from all three camps not only for social reasons. He does not truly dwell in isolation, as we learn from the Mishna [Keilim 1:7] that one stricken with tzara’at may dwell anywhere within cities which were not walled at the time of Yehoshua. Rambam [Laws of Tum’at Tzara’at 10:7] adds that outside Eretz Yisrael, one stricken with tzara’at is permitted to dwell even within cities walled at the time of Yehoshua.
What then is the rationale for the three camps and for the distinctions in banishment of the three types of tum’ah from the camps?
Rambam [Laws of Entering the Beit HaMikdash 3:2-3] relates the distinctions in banishment to the severity of the tum’ah. One afflicted with tzara’at conveys tum’ah to whatever room he enters, and to all objects food and people within the room. Since his level of tum’ah is so severe, his banishment is severe as well. Zav, nida and a woman after birth have an intermediate level of severity of tum’ah: they do not convey tum’ah to the contents of a room they enter, but do convey tum’ah to whatever they sit on. Therefore, they are banished from the Camp of the Levites. Tamei met, the least severe level of tum’ah, is banished only from the Camp of Shechina.
God Created Boundaries in His World
There are ten levels of tum’ah within the major classifications of tum’ah (avot hatum’ah), and ten levels of tum’ah which issue from the body. Correspondingly, there are ten levels of sanctity in the world and in Eretz Yisrael, as the Mishna [Keilim, chapter one in its entirety] counts, with the lands outside Eretz Yisrael occupying the lowest level, and all the higher levels being within the Land.
The basic concept that the world is built of different levels can be seen in the Torah in the matter of Koracḥ’s rebellion. Koracḥ argued that there are no distinct levels in the world and therefore he asserted “The entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” [Bamidbar 16:3] Rashi, quoting Midrash Tancḥuma, comments that Koracḥ attempted to buttress his claim with a question to Moses:
“Does a garment which is entirely t’chelet, require tzitzit?” When Moses responded in the affirmative, Koracḥ and his supporters began to laugh, saying “Is it possible that for a garment of another color (other than t’chelet) a single string of t’chelet exempts it, while a garment entirely of t’chelet does not exempt itself?”
Koracḥ failed to comprehend the distinction between the level of sanctity of the garment and that of the string of t’chelet.
Rashi further expounds Moses’ response to Koracḥ:
“In the morning, the Lord will make known who is His, and who is holy.” Moses said “Are you able to transform morning into evening? This is how possible it is for you to undo this (God’s choice of Moses and Aaron), as the verse says ‘It was evening and it was morning … and God separated between the light and the darkness,’ [Bereishit (Genesis) 1:5, 7] similarly, ‘Aaron was set apart to sanctify him.’” [Divrei Hayamim 1(Chronicles I) 23:13]
That is, just as there are distinctions among existing tangible objects, as the world is divided into day and night and into inanimate objects, vegetable, animals and man, so too there are distinctions in levels of holiness.
The Meaning of Levels
It is necessary that the world be composed of distinct levels.
There is a boundary of time when the day ends and life throughout the world pauses from building up the world in order to rest and rejuvenate. Therefore, daytime symbolizes good and nighttime evil. If there were no distinction of inanimate, vegetable and animal, but only man, it would be impossible to manage the world; the world would be dull and devoid of free-choice, reward and punishment. If there were not distinct musical notes, it would not be possible to create tunes or to sing. The spiritual world as well requires distinct levels. The distinctions between spirit and soul allow connecting the pure and holy spiritual world with the tangible world, which is full of complications and of ups and downs. Having distinct levels is necessary to make the world interesting, with accomplishments and the excitement of life. As well, the distinctions of sanctity and tum’ah are necessary in order to allow the tangible world to achieve sanctity. Thus, the distance between sanctity and tum’ah requires differing levels of banishment, in accordance with the levels of tum’ah; with the zav requiring further banishment that the tamei met, and one afflicted with tzara’at requiring even further banishment.
We noted two reasons for the division into camps and for the banishment of one afflicted with tzara’at from all three camps:
On the simple level – the division into camps reflects the distinction among sanctity of life, sanctity of moral traits and the sanctity of social life. One was afflicted with tzara’at because of the social harm he caused, and ultimately, he harmed all three areas and thus he is banished from all three camps.
On a deeper level, the division into levels, including in the realms of sanctity and tum’ah, is necessary in the world. Since the severity of tum’ah of one afflicted with tzara’at is greater than that of other types of tum’ah, he must be banished from all three camps.
Both answers convey the reason for the imperative Is it possible that a cloak of another [colored] material, one string of blue wool exempts it [from the obligation of techeleth], and this one, which is made entirely of blue wool, should not exempt itself? Is it possible that a cloak of another [colored] material, one string of blue wool exempts it [from the obligation of techeleth], and this one, which is made entirely of blue wool, should not exempt itself?”He shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.”
Sanctity Exists on Thousands of Levels
Numerous times Rabbi Yosef Badicḥi related Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook’s z”tl emphasis on two points: that there is real meaning to sanctity and tum’ah within the mundane world and that there is great significance to the multitude of levels which exist in the world.
Concerning the second point, Rabbi Kook z”tl taught that the multitude of levels of holiness is indeed great, as our Sages taught that in the World to Come God will make a canopy for each righteous person in accordance with his personal level. [Gemara Bava Batra 75a] Each mitzva which a person performs takes him to a higher level of holiness. Every proper intention in performing a mitzva and every preparation for a mitzva is recorded in the Heavenly Court. In mundane matters as well there is a multitude of levels. The rainbow which God created consists of limitless wavelengths of color. Not all distinctions are significant: whether a car is a slightly lighter or darker shade of green is of no real significance. The important point is to be aware of the multitude of levels and to apply that awareness to our lives when it is suitable, while ignoring those distinctions which have no practical significance.
May it be God’s will that we sanctify ourselves and achieve ever higher levels of serving God, and may we recognize the sublime level of Eretz Yisrael and build her up and be built up within her. Amen.
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