The Machaneh Shechinah by Ned Krasnopolsky

(2017/5777)

Throughout Sefer BeMidbar, there is an overlying motif of the incorporation of the Shechinah throughout the camp of Bnei Yisrael. This motif is clearly visible throughout all of the movements and actions of Shivtei Yisrael and its leaders. This can especially be seen in the function of the Chatzotzrot (trumpets), and through the framework of Bnei Yisrael’s travels through the Midbar.

The Chatzotzrot

In Parashat BeHa’alotecha (BeMidbar 10:2) Hashem commands Moshe to create for himself two trumpets, beaten out of one solid piece of silver. The Rambam (Hilchot Ta’aniyot 1:1) understands that the various uses of Chatzotzrot all fall underneath the umbrella of one Mitzvah. However, the Rambam’s position is a rather perplexing one, as the very uses of the Chatzotzrot seem to be a tripartite dichotomy. First of all, the trumpets were to be blown at times of war, and at times of happiness (BeMidbar 10:9-10). Second, they were to be blown during the suspension and commencement of travel (10:2-6). Lastly, a more subtle point, is the differentiation between the two sounds produced by the trumpets during their use — a Teru'ah versus a Teki’ah. Certainly, one “blanket” Mitzvah could not possibly encompass all of the uses of the Chatzotzrot! In addition, the very concept that the Chatzotzrot were to be made of one unified piece of silver seems to be difficult to comprehend.

A potential resolution is as follows: overall, the Pesukim seem to point out that the Chatzotzrot function in opposing scenarios. However, there is one unifying factor among all the different functions of the Chatzotzrot listed by the Torah. When the Torah introduces the concepts of blowing the Chatzotzrot during times of war and happiness, it includes within each respective Pasuk the concept of the Chatzotzrot serving as a remembrance to remind Bnei Yisrael to turn to Hashem for their salvation and thanksgiving. In fact, the grammar[1] of the Pesukim clarifies this point by stressing the importance of thanking Hashem during times of happiness and success. All in all, the Chatzotzrot represent a rejection of the concept of compartmental belief in Hashem — Bnei Yisrael should look up to Hashem during both troubled and peaceful times.

That is why the Chatzotzrot are linked to Moshe by Hashem’s direct command of “Asei Lecha,” “Make for yourself” (BeMidbar 10:2). Moshe’s unwavering Emunah is the paradigm of belief in Hashem during both challenging and serene moments. In fact, when Moshe died, no one else was allowed to use his Chatzotzrot (cf. Rashi ibid. s.v. Lecha). Overall, Moshe and the Chatzotzrot were a remembrance of the importance of having a consistent and constant approach to Deveikut LaHashem, closeness to God. The Chatzotzrot were certainly a representation of the Shechinah’s presence within the Machaneh, as they served as an everlasting remembrance to G-d’s omnipresence throughout times of difficulty and triumph.

The Travelling Configuration of Machaneh Yisrael

In the middle of the tenth Perek of BeMidbar, the Torah describes how Bnei Yisrael travelled through the Midbar. This idea of structure greatly contributed to the camp’s description as a Machaneh Shechinah. 

The middle of the Perek (10:14-27) begins by re-listing the names of the Nesi’im. The Ramban (10:14 s.v. VeAl Tzeva’o) raises the question of why the names of the Nesi’im are re-listed here, as they were already mentioned earlier in the Sefer. The Ramban explains that the reason for doing this was to show how Bnei Yisrael travelled with the Nesi’im in front of them, and he quotes the Pasuk from Parashat Pinechas where Moshe emphasizes the point that the Jewish people should not be like sheep without a shepherd (27:17). The fact that the Nesi’im travelled first was a defining feature in the Machaneh Shechinah, as it gave the camp structure.

In addition, the camp was very organized, both when it settled and during its travels. According to the Pesukim in the 10th Perek, the order of the travel was as follows: first, Machaneh Yehudah would begin travelling. Then, Aharon and his sons would begin to travel. Shortly after that, the camps of Gershon and Merari would disassemble the Mishkan and begin to travel. Next, the camp of Re’uvein would travel. After that, the sons of Kehat would pick up the Kelei HaKodesh on their shoulders and proceed to travel. Soon after, the camp of Efrayim would begin to travel. Lastly, the camp of Dan began to travel.

This travel procedure enabled the camp to receive the description of a Machaneh Shechinah. First of all, it created an environment of organization; we were not a meandering nation in the desert. Additionally, it produced an environment of Achdut and Areivut, unity and camaraderie. This was accomplished through the function given to the camp of Dan, the last of the camps. Machaneh Dan received the title of “Me’aseif LeChol HaMachanot” (10:25). Rashi (ibid.) explains that this means that Sheivet Dan would have the function of fulfilling the Mitzvah of Hashavat Aveidah. If someone in a camp ahead of them left something behind, Dan would collect it and return it to that person. This instilled the values of Achdut into the nation, and it certainly contributed to the description of Machaneh as a Machaneh Shechinah. Lastly, the travelling order of the Machanot allowed for the proper respect to be given to the Aron HaKodesh. Since the disassembly and handling of the Mishkan, performed by the families of Gershon and Merari, occurred before the family of Kehat picked up the Kelei HaKodesh, the Mishkan was able to be assembled before the Aron arrived at the new encampment. In fact, the “gap period” of Machaneh Reuven beginning to travel allowed for this to take place. It is very clear that Bnei Yisrael emphasized the role of the Aron, and therefore the Shechinah, during their travels. Overall, the structure and procedures of Bnei Yisrael granted them the title of a Machaneh Shechinah.

In conclusion, Sefer BeMidbar certainly is focused on the role of the Shechinah in the camp of Yisrael. Throughout their travels, Bnei Yisrael definitely stressed the importance of the Shechinah, whether through their use of the Chatzotzrot or through the structure of their travels. The overall motif of the incorporation of the Shechinah throughout the Machaneh was certainly aided by the actions and ideals of Bnei Yisrael during their travels. Hashem commanded Bnei Yisrael “VeAsu Li Mikdash VeShachanti BeTocham,” “they will make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them” (Shemot 25:8). The actions of Bnei Yisrael’s community in the Midbar certainly fulfilled that commandment.

[1] “VeHayu Lachem LeZikaron” implies a more active remembrance, in contrast to initiating Hashem’s “remembrance” of Bnei Yisrael during times of hardship, as seen in the language of “VeNizkartem Lifnei Hashem Elokeichem.”

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