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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Numbers/Bamidbar - Bamidbar
Contributed 2008 by Asher ben Shimon
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Our Torah portion, Bamidbar describes the way the 12 tribes were positioned around the tabernacle. Around the actual tabernacle lived the tribe of Levi subdivided into families. Around them on each side there was a cluster of three tribes. Out of the three tribes, one was appointed leader of the group.

Let's take a closer look at the southern and eastern camps.

"The families of the sons of Kehot shall camp to the south side of the Mishkan"

How did this affect their neighbors?

Rashi: Near them was the division of Reuven, who camped to the south. Woe to the wicked, woe to his neighbor! This explains why Datan, Aviram, and two hundred and fifty men (members of the tribe of Reuven) were punished with Korach and his congregation,(the Kehot family) for they were drawn into the dispute along with them.

To the south were the descendants of Kehot and near them the tribes of Reuven, Shimon and Gad. Woe to the wicked woe to his neighbor. These 3 tribes that were Korach's neighbors were destroyed with him in his dispute as it says "The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them etc."

Midrash Rabbah:
The three to the south who became quarrelers were destroyed with them. About them it says "Woe etc. Who were these quarrelers? Korach son of Yitshar son of Kehot. Since they were near them, the tribes of Gad and Shimon all became quarrelers!

The above three statements appear to be similar but upon closer observation we will see that they are very different.

The Tanchuma mentions that Kehot's neighbors were punished as a result of Kehot's dispute. The verse it quotes also only mentions the punishment.

Rashi adds that they were actually drawn into the dispute. Their punishment therefore came as a result of their own actions. The Midrash takes it one step further and labels all three neighboring tribes quarrelers.

Now to the east side for a positive twist of neighbors influence.

"Camping in front of the Mishkan, in front of the Tent of Meeting to the east were Moshe, Aaron and his sons"

Rashi: "Near them was the division of the camp of Yehuda, next to whom camped Yissachar and Zevulun. "It is good for the righteous, and it is good for his neighbor!". Because they were neighbors of Moshe, who was engaged in Torah study, they became great Torah scholars"

Note that Rashi mentions the names of all 3 tribes here.

There are 3 levels of influence the neighbors have on each other.

1) An outward influence which does not have any effect on the other party's personality. Reward or punishment might overflow to the neighbor who is lucky/unlucky enough to be around. (Tanchuma)

2) A change of nature for better or worse in the neighbor. The new neighbor might become a quarreler or Torah scholar depending on whether he moved near Korach or near Moshe (Rashi)

3) Being a neighbor is not what makes the other neighbor change his nature rather the fact that they live near each other comes as a result of a similar nature. It is only that one has his nature revealed before the other. By acting a certain way they arouse the natural tendency of their neighbor to act the same way. That would mean that the tribe of Reuven always consisted of quarrelers. When they teamed up with the Korach crew this nature came to light. (Midrash Rabbah)

Being neighbors with a bad guy might be costly at times. This we learn in the laws of Tzara'at of the house. (the supernatural sickness that would afflict slanderers. Before a person would get this on his skin, his house would be afflicted as a warning)

When a wall between two houses shows a tzara'at stain, the 'sick' stones need to be replaced by both neighbors.

There are several ways to look at this law.

1) We focus at the inhabitants of the houses.
Even when only one side of the wall has tzara'at, both sides need to replace the stones at this spot. The 2 nd side of the wall doesn't require any fixing but the person living there does. That is why he too must replace the stones on his side of the wall.

2) We focus on the wall.
-Rashi maintains that only in case of a corner stone where the stain is visible to both parties, both have the obligation to deal with it.

-Others maintain that even a little tzara'at affected stone in the middle of the wall which is only visible on one side, needs to be fixed by both neighbors.

We can connect this with the three levels of influence neighbors have on each other as mentioned above.

The 'tanchuma' way were the neighbor remains good but under the influence, therefore he needs to help fix his neighbors wall. We do not consider it his wall, but it is his problem because he lives next door. He must help the neighbor fix his wall to shake of the bad influence.

The 'Rashi' way. Bad neighbor pulled good neighbor in. They will be notified of G-d's displeasure by a Tzara'at stain visible to both on the corner stone .

The 'Midrash Rabbah' way. Bad neighbor on one side means the guy on the other side is also up to no good. Even when he hasn't shown his true colors yet, we know what he is all about deep inside. Therefore even if his side of the wall still has clean stones he needs to change them anyway because it is only a matter of time for the problem to be revealed.

Good is always stronger than bad, so too in this issue.

Concerning the bad influence Rashi mentions that Kehot's influence had extended to some of Reuven's members. He does not mention the other members of this tribe and doesn't even mention the other 2 tribes of Gad and Shimon. For unless we see that the bad influence has actually brought the neighbor to be like his role model we do not assume that they have become like them. (according to the Midrash Rabbah we do)

We pointed out before that Rashi mentions all 3 tribes near Moshe whereas he only mentions the leading tribe near Kehot. That is because all agree that positive influence of a good neighbor is a certain thing.

Bamidbar is always read before Shavuot when we celebrate the giving of the Torah.

What is the lesson we can learn from the neighbor issue we just studied in depth in regards to Torah study?

We learn the severity of negative influence from Korach's fight. We learned the strength of positive influence from Moshe's Torah study.

This teaches us that in order for the Torah to be given, there can't be any quarrels among the Jewish people. As a matter of fact the Torah was given as a result of the unity that was shown at mount Sinai.

Another lesson we learn from here is that Torah can only be studied properly when it is being studied near a righteous man. When one learns for his own intellectual pleasure or to enjoy the honor bestowed on smart teachers, he causes strive between himself and G-d. G-d is one with the Torah. If man's ego is entered into the picture the Torah becomes disconnected from G-d. Therefore the only way one can become a true Torah giant is when he studies near a righteous Tzadik who expresses self nullification and unity with G-d in all his actions.


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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