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   by Jacob Solomon

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G-d is walking with you in your [army] camp in order to save you and grant you victory. Your camp must be holy. Let Him not see anything lascivious among you and turn away from you (23:15).

The Torah demands army camp cleanliness and appropriate behavior even during times of war when the soldiers' basest instincts may rise to the surface. G-d assures His soldiers that He will assist them to victory in battle as long as their behavior is compatible with purity, cleanliness, and decency (23:10-15). If not, He will "turn away from you". The Sforno explains that violating suitable moral conduct on the field of battle is akin to turning one's back on G-d's presence within the camp. G-d in turn will take away His assistance, "turn away" (22:15) and abandon you.

Indeed, the laws of camp conduct are immediately followed with additional directions for desirable behavior on active military service. "You must not return a run-away slave… to his master. He shall live among you", and "No Israelite woman may be a prostitute". Though these mitzvot apply in all circumstances, they are especially relevant to the military. Runaways, according to the Sforno, are especially common in war when slaves accompany their masters to battle and flee to refuge on the other side. And harlots are particularly likely to follow army camps to ply their trade. The Torah therefore requires compassion to the runaway slave and zero-tolerance for prostitutes as means of behaving compatibly with G-d's presence in the camp.

The details of desirable behavior compatible with Shechina in the army camp is followed with details of desirable behavior that is compatible with Shechina among the People of Israel "in order that G-d will bless you in what ever you do, in the Land" (23:21). The Sforno explains that the frame for the next set of directives is, likewise, to keep the Shechina amongst Am Yisrael. They include: sensitivity to the situation of the worker and the borrower (and at the same time not reneging on the interest payments agreed with a non-Jewish borrower), keeping promises, avoiding gossip, enabling people and animals working on the farm to reasonably sustain themselves on the field's growing produce, promoting the wife's happiness and permitting divorce only when there are substantial grounds, ensuring that the environment is safe, and that court-ordered physical punishment is effective and yet not excessive, and making it possible for the continuation of the name of married man who dies without children.

Additionally, these mitzvot may be seen as developments and refinements of derech eretz, decent behavior. That has to be of especially high standard to be in tune with the many mitzvot bein adam laMakom (between Man and G-d), as exemplified by the bikkurim (bringing of the first fruits) that opens the next Parasha.

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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