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Shabbat Parashat Mishpatim| 5765
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - The Purity of the Israeli Army Camp - Part II - From Eretz Hemdah, I, pg. 61-66
[We saw last time that there are two opinions in Rishonim whether the halachot of purity of the battle encampment apply only when the aron accompanies the warriors or it always applies. We suggested that these opinions were consistent with the respective opinions of these Rishonim on the question whether or not there was an aron that Bnei Yisrael took with them into battle.]
It is difficult to claim that, despite a variety of sources to the contrary, the Rambam and Ramban do not accept the concept of an aron going out to battle (see Ramban on Sefer Hamitzvot, Shoresh 3). Rather, it seems that there were two historical periods in this regard. Before the mishkan had a set lodging place and the Levi’im carried its holy utensils, Bnei Yisrael were able to take the aron out to battle, as well. This is what happened when Pinchas went out with the army together with the aron (see Bamidbar 31:6). The full complement of halachot, including that of some soldiers’ return from the front, existed only at that time. However, the laws of setting a place for one’s bodily needs continued even after the mishkan and later, the Beit Hamikdash, housed the aron on a permanent basis, preventing it from being removed.
The question still remains: according to the Rambam and Ramban that all war encampments had laws of purity, irrespective of the presence of the aron, why does the Torah stress “for Hashem is ‘walking’ in your midst” in this context? It appears that according to the Rambam, there are two levels of purity that are demanded of the people in different contexts. When the aron was present, the requirement to refrain from anything unbefitting its presence was complete and applied even to urination. After the aron was confined to the Beit Hamikdash, only that which is described by the p’sukim as requiring a shovel, in other words, elimination, needed to be done outside the encampment.
[We mentioned last time that] the Sefer Hachinuch said that only at the time of the Beit Hamikdash did these halachot exist. We explained that there is apparently a need for a king at the helm of the army in order to have the full status of a national war effort, not just a collection of individuals. The laws associated with a set place outside the camp and a shovel apply only when a specifically defined war encampment exists. If this is so, we can explain another halacha, as well. The Sefer Hachinuch also says that these laws apply only to men, for they are the ones who fight. The Minchat Chinuch asks on this claim, in light of the fact that the Rambam writes that for a mandatory war (milchemet mitzva) everyone, including women, went out. We can answer now based on the Radvaz’s understanding of the Rambam, that women went out only to provide water and food for the fighters, not to fight themselves. If so, they were in the encampment, but did not belong to the same category of warriors who were specifically commanded to preserve their purity at that time. Had the aron’s presence been the issue, then these laws would have been equally binding on everyone physically present in the encampment, not only the men.
Since we did not find anyone who argued on the Sefer Hachinuch’s claim that these laws apply only in the time of the Beit Hamikdash, it is unlikely that we must follow the Torah’s stipulations in this regard in our present-day battle encampments. But the matter deserves further attention.
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