First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/naso-nearby-exile/
Netziv Numbers: Naso
“Only solitary men know the full joys of friendship. Others have their family; but to a solitary and an exile, his friends are everything.” -Willa Cather
Solitary confinement is known as one of the harshest punishments prisoners are given. There is something in being alone for too long that is of greater anguish than physical pain. However, being alone is not only a function of physical separation. There is a social exclusion that can be just as damaging, if not more so, than being the sole occupant of a cell.
For a person that became ritually impure during the sojourn of the tribes of Israel in the desert, the prescription was a temporary exile from the camp. The Netziv on Numbers 5:4 warns however, that when the unfortunate person was exiled, they needed to make sure they did not stray too far away.
The simplest reason is for physical protection. Being outside, yet in close proximity to the camp, afforded some shelter from external forces that may seek to harm the isolated member of the group. For an outsider, from a distance, it would be hard to distinguish the exiled from the tribe.
However, there is a more practical reason. Remaining close, even while in exile, makes it easier to return.
May we keep ourselves and those we have exiled from our lives within reach of the core of our tribe.
To Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum, former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay, for a wonderful and meaningful visit to his old community.