“G-d’s Gift of a Second Chance”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Naso, is the longest of all the parashiot of the Torah. It is appropriately read most often on the Shabbat that immediately follows Shavuot, indicating the Jewish People’s great love for Torah. It is interesting to note that the 176 verses in parashat Naso is the same number of verses in the longest chapter of Psalms, chapter 119. 176 is also the number of folios, in the largest tractate of the Talmud, Baba Batra.

One of the many diverse themes that are found in parashat Naso is the command in Numbers 5, to purify the camp of Israel.

Nachmanides explains that in order to make the camp worthy of the newly-erected Tabernacle and G-d’s Divine Presence that had settled among the Jews, the people of Israel had to purify their camp of any ritual contamination.

In Numbers 5:2, G-d speaks to Moses and says to him, צַו אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וִישַׁלְּחוּ מִן הַמַּחֲנֶה כָּל צָרוּעַ וְכָל זָב וְכֹל טָמֵא לָנָפֶשׁ , Command the Children of Israel that they expel from the camp everyone [stricken] with the צָרַעַת –Tzaraat disease, everyone who has a זָבZahv, emission, and all those contaminated by contact with a human corpse.

Rashi explains that there were three concentric camps at the time of Israel’s encamping. The camp of the “Divine Presence” was at the center, in the innermost square, and consisted of the Tabernacle and the courtyard surrounding the Tabernacle. The Levites, Moses and Aaron were encamped in the middle square, around the four sides of the Tabernacle and the courtyard. The Israelites encamped in the outermost square, on all four sides of the Levites.

Rashi explains that those who were stricken with Tzaraat were sent out of all three camps. Those who had experienced a Zahv–emission were permitted in the Israelite camp, but were sent out of both the camp of the Divine Presence and the Levites’ camp. Those who had come in contact with a dead body were prohibited entry only to the camp of the Divine Presence.

The Yalkut May’am Lo’ez suggests that the Torah records the mitzvah of the purification of the camp at this particular point, in order to prove to the Israelites that their camp was also regarded as holy. The May’am Lo’ez maintains that when the Israelites saw that the Divine Presence had settled on the newly-erected Tabernacle, and that the Levites were stationed around it to protect the Tabernacle, they felt bereft, thinking that their camp was without sanctity. Now that they learned that those people stricken with Tzaraat could not enter the camp of Israel, they realized that all three camps were sanctified and that the Divine Presence was indeed in their camp as well.

The Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 7:1, records the reason for sending out the unclean Israelites from their camps. Says the Midrash, just as the dross must be removed from the silver in order to see its beauty, so too did the camp of Israel need to be purified in order to see the peoples’ beauty.

The Midrash explains that when the Israelites left Egypt, they were a beaten and broken people. Due to the arduous labor of building with bricks and mortar, and having to climb great heights, most of the people were ill and disabled. Some were injured by falling stones; others had lost hands or vision as a result of work accidents.

When they arrived in the wilderness, the Al-mighty said to Himself, “Is this the way the Torah is going to be respected? Shall I give the Torah to a generation of cripples? I could wait for a new generation to be mature enough to accept the Torah, but that would take too long!”

G-d then instructed His angels to quickly heal the people. The rabbis confirm their healing from the Torah’s descriptions at the revelation of Sinai. Proof that no one was lame is derived from Exodus 19:17, which states that the people stood beneath the mountain. No one was missing limbs, because it says in Exodus 24:7 that the Jewish people replied, “Anything that G-d spoke,we will do.” No one was deaf, because the verse in Exodus 24:7 says, “We will hear.” None of the people were blind, since it says in Exodus 20:15, “And all the people saw the voices.” No one was mute, because it says in Exodus 19:8, “And all the people answered.” Clearly, the Torah describes a people who were completely healed.

However, when the people later worshiped the Golden Calf, they were once again stricken. They became זָבִיםZavim, מְצוֹרָעִים —Metzoraim (stricken with Tzaraat), and rendered impure with the contamination of death. In order to achieve purity, the stricken people were sent out of the camp.

This challenging Midrash in effect reports that when the Israelites left Egypt, they were a pitiful bunch. Many of them were physically blemished and brutally injured from the inhumane work. But they were miraculously made whole again at Sinai, and the integrity of their souls was matched by their physical perfection. However, as they wandered in the wilderness and distanced themselves from Sinai, the effects of the miracles at Sinai began to wear off. They began to grumble about the hardships of the journey. Soon their now-blemished souls began to be reflected in their physically-blemished bodies.

Casual observers may ask, how those who had once been lame, or blind or mute, or missing a limb, who had witnessed their own miraculous return to wholeness, could possibly fail to express gratitude for their wondrous healing?

Unfortunately, many of us behave in a similar manner in our own lives. A close friend moves away, but a new friend is made soon after. A precious piece of jewelry is lost, but is soon replaced with a new, even more precious, piece of jewelry. A pet passes away, and a new pet is embraced. G-d often gives people second chances but they fail to express their gratitude for those second chances. Those who fail to do so and those who fail to acknowledge the graciousness of the Al-mighty, will often find themselves isolated–-surrounded by hosts of ungrateful people like themselves.

G-d’s greatest desire is that the camp of Israel be filled with sanctity, happiness, joy, and that the people find abundant reason for expressions of gratitude and thankfulness.

There is no human being who has not been given a second chance. These opportunities for new beginnings are true gifts from the Al-mighty, that need to be acknowledged and appreciated, and not rejected, because of some shiny calf, that beckons and tempts us with its golden body.

May you be blessed.

Please note: The wonderful festival of Shavuot commemorating the giving of the Torah at Sinai 3329 years ago is observed this year on Tuesday evening, May 30th, and continues through Thursday night, June 1st, 2017.

Chag Shavuot Samayach. Have a happy and festive Shavuot.