Parashat Ki Tetze

And Your Camp(s) Shall Be Holy

The laws regarding the purity of the Tabernacle and the purity of military camps remind us to ensure the sanctity of all of our dwelling places.

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Provided by the Orthodox Union, the central coordinating agency for North American Orthodox congregations.

Shortly, the people of Israel will begin its national life, including the conquest and settlement of the land. And when Israel goes to war, Moses teaches, the Torah continues to maintain its concern for sanctity:

(10) When you go out as a camp (mahaneh) against your enemies, you shall be on guard against any bad thing. (11) If there will be among you a man who will not be pure because of an incident of the night, he shall go forth outside of the camp (la'mahaneh); he shall not come inside the camp (ha'mahaneh). (12) And it shall be towards evening, he shall wash in water, and when the sun has set he may come into the camp (ha'mahaneh). (13) And a designated place shall you have for yourself outside of the camp (la'mahaneh), and you shall go there outside. (14) And a spade shall you have for you with your implements; and it shall be when you sit outside, you shall dig with it, and you shall turn back and cover your discharge. (15) For Hashem, your G-d, walks in the midst of your camp (mahanecha), to save you and to deliver your enemies before you; and your camp(s) shall be (v'haya mahaneycha) holy; and He will not see in you any indecent thing, such that He will turn from behind you (Deuteronomy 23).

Aside from the fact that the word mahaneh, camp is mentioned a significant seven times, this passage describes appropriate and inappropriate behavior in the military camp. However, it also sheds light on the general life of the society.

One who becomes impure (tamei) through emission is required to remain outside the precincts of the Tabernacle (or, in later history, the Temple); this is the camp spoken of in verses 11-12. Then, in verses 13-14, the focus is on cleanliness and maintaining the proper atmosphere in the military camp. Rambam, (Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 6:14, 15), explains these laws as follows:

It is forbidden to relieve oneself within the camp or in the field in any place. Rather there is a positive commandment to establish there a special path to relieve oneself there, as it says, "And a designated place shall you have for yourself outside of the camp."

Likewise, there is a positive commandment for each one to have a spade suspended with his weapons. And he goes out along that path and he digs with it and turns and covers, as it is said, "And a spade shall you have for you with your implements…" And whether the ark is with them and whether there is no ark with them, so do they do always, as it is said, "and your camp(s) shall be holy."

Ramban (Nahmanides) explains why we must be especially concerned with exercising self-control, and preventing coarseness and brutality during war:

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Rabbi Avraham Fischer

Avraham Fischer is a rabbi at Darche Noam Institutions.