Faith and Ethics

Near and Far

The book of Numbers teaches us how to behave in the desert, when the regular order of things has been disturbed. This week’s Torah portion begins with the problems of an individual who sets aside his normal life. Even though usually the Torah first treats the general situation and then goes to particular cases, in times of crisis it is necessary to begin with the individual. It is impossible to be involved in the general status while the individual soul remains in a complex situation.

The criterion for analyzing the problems of an individual is how close he or she is to the source of holiness, the Tabernacle. After the tribes organize themselves around the Tabernacle, the physiology of the national body is revealed. It can happen that being too close to the holiest site can put a person in a complex situation, because he or she is personally impure. The way to solve the problem is to send the person away, at a distance, in order to be able to rebuild his identity under conditions that do not require direct contact with the demands of sanctity: “Send away from the camp all who have a blemish, who have an impure flow from their bodies, or who have come into contact with the dead” [Numbers 5:2]. Here is the order of things: One with a blemish, a “tzara’at,” which is caused by his ethical failure with in the community (for example, by spreading slander), is sent to spend time in solitude, removed from all three holy camps, in order to reunite with his own self and to become pure. On the other hand, the “zav,” who has an impure bodily flow, has a problem that is not as serious, but he is somewhat humiliated because of his human frailty. He is sent out of the camp of the Levites, because to remain there would require a level of mental purity that he would not be able to maintain. And the one who is impure from contact with the dead has not been harmed mentally or ethically. However, his contact with death has put him in touch with the “after-the-fact” world, where death is a reality because of humanity’s original sin. He is therefore prevented from entering only the camp of the Shechina (the Holy Presence), which is associated with life and not with death.

From that point on, the Torah discusses the opposite situation. There are cases when too great a distance from sanctity leads to human complexity and failure, so much so that a person shows no respect for anything that belongs to others. This can be compared to a person with tzara’at, who used his tongue to do harm to his friend. The solution is to bring the person to the Temple and to require him to bring a sacrifice, the “Asham” related to robbery. Forcing an encounter with holiness teaches him that to cause harm to another person’s money also harms the sanctity in the world.

There are times when human relationships become even more complicated, in parallel to a zav, in intimate relations between a couple. Peace in the home must be founded on the understanding that for a good relationship “the Shechina must appear among them.” If this foundation is lacking, the relationship breaks down. And the couple must therefore be brought to the Temple, to see that even the holy name of G-d will be erased in order to bring peace back to the home.

The asceticism of the “nazir” is a way to lift up an individual to a personal level of sanctity, where there is no room for the impurity of contact with death, similar to the laws for the High Priest, in order to mend problems with his personality.

The many different ways of treating the individual soul entail a danger, as a side effect, of concentrating too heavily on the individual. And that is the reason for the blessings by the Kohanim, in an attempt to unite all of the House of Israel with the blessing of the revelation of the Shechina for the nation as a whole.

Source: “AS SHABBAT APPROACHES” – a biweekly column in Shabbat B’Shabbato, Nasso 5774, Volume 1526. (Zomet Institute) See:

Rabbi Oury Cherki

Rav Oury Cherki was born in Algeria in 1959 and grew up in France, and he made Aliyah in 1972. He studied at Merkaz Harav Yeshiva, which was founded by Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook. He performed his military service in the artillery branch of the IDF. He studied with Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, Rav Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi (Manitou), Rav Shlomo Binyamin and Achlag. Rav Cherki heads the Israeli department of Machon Meir, and he is the Director of Brit Olam - the Noahide World Center. He teaches in many places throughout Israel. Rav Cherki is the spiritual leader of the "Beth Yehuda" community in Kiryat Moshe (Jerusalem). He has written many books on Jewish thought and philosophy.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply