Shabbat Parashat Yitro| 5765
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - The Purity of the Israeli Army Camp - Part I - From Eretz Hemdah, I, pg. 61-66
The Torah instructs Bnei Yisrael that when they “go out as an encampment against your enemy, you should stay away from anything bad …you should have a place outside the camp, and you should go out there. You shall have a shovel along with your weapons, and it shall be when you shall be out, you shall use it to dig and you shall go back and cover your excrement. For Hashem, your G-d, is ‘walking’ in the midst of your encampment … and your encampment should be holy …” (Devarim 23: 10-15).The Rambam, in bringing these halachot (Melachim 10: 14-15), states that the laws of the purity of the battle encampment apply whether or not the aron (ark which held the Tablets of the Covenant) was with them. The Yereim (432), on the other hand, explains that these laws are predicated on the assumption that the aron was present, and the aron’s presence is that which creates the need for the holiness and purity of the camp. He bases this claim on the words of the pasuk, “for Hashem, your G-d, is ‘walking’ in the midst of your encampment,” which, he says, refers to the machane aron (an encampment with the aron present).
From where does the Yereim know that the aforementioned phrase refers to “machane aron”? The mishna (Sota 42a) does make such a derivation, but this was on a different pasuk (Devarim 20:4), which deals with soldiers returning from the battle front. Apparently, the Yereim felt that if these words refer in one place to the presence of the aron, then it presumably refers to the same thing in all places where this phrase is used. The Rambam understands the use of the phrase in a more limited fashion.
The Sefer Hachinuch (mitzvah 56) apparently concurs with the Rambam’s position, as he says that these laws apply at the time of the Beit Hamikdash. This seems to apply even to the time of the second Beit Hamikdash. Since at that time, the aron had already been hidden (Yoma 52b), it follows that the presence of the aron cannot be a condition for the implementation of the laws of purity of the encampment. What still needs explanation in the Sefer Hachinuch is why these laws apply only during the time of the Beit Hamikdash. Apparently, he felt that the special status of the encampment applied only at a time when there was a king in Israel who lead the army, and not when Bnei Yisrael might go out as a group of individuals.
The two opinions, of whether or not the laws of the purity of the encampment apply when the aron is not present, seem to be linked to the following machloket. Rashi (on Bamidbar 10:33) explains that the Torah’s reference to the aron traveling before the encampment of Bnei Yisrael refers to the aron which housed the broken, first luchot. So too, Rashi explains that the wooden ark that Moshe was commanded to make was to house the broken luchot, which was independent of the aron that was in the mishkan. The Ramban (ad loc. ) argued on Rashi and said that only a single opinion among Tanaim subscribes to the idea that Bnei Yisrael had two arks with them. The majority opinion understood that there was one aron, and it housed both the intact and the broken set of luchot. The Ramban explains that that which an aron was taken out to battle at the time of the judge, Eiley, was an improper, one-time event. The Rambam, in his various writings, also only seems to refer to one aron. The Rambam now is consistent. Since there was only one aron and it was not intended to go out to war, it does not make sense that the Torah, in instructing about the proper conduct of the encampment would refer to a case in which the aron was present improperly. The mishna in Sota is then presumably talking according to the minority opinion that there was an aron which accompanied the encampment.
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