GrowTorah Core Value: Stewarding the Earth, Incubating Emunah

At the close of Sefer Bamidbar, the Torah recounts Bnei Israel's journey through the desert. God instructs Moshe on the laws for cities in Eretz Israel, including the laws of Migrash. What are the details of these laws? What values can they teach us about how to organize and relate to our cities?

Lesson Title: Building our Cities and Keeping Them Clean

(ב) צַו֮ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵל֒ וְנָתְנ֣וּ לַלְוִיִּ֗ם מִֽנַּחֲלַ֛ת אֲחֻזָּתָ֖ם עָרִ֣ים לָשָׁ֑בֶת וּמִגְרָ֗שׁ לֶֽעָרִים֙ סְבִיבֹ֣תֵיהֶ֔ם תִּתְּנ֖וּ לַלְוִיִּֽם׃ (ג) וְהָי֧וּ הֶֽעָרִ֛ים לָהֶ֖ם לָשָׁ֑בֶת וּמִגְרְשֵׁיהֶ֗ם יִהְי֤וּ לִבְהֶמְתָּם֙ וְלִרְכֻשָׁ֔ם וּלְכֹ֖ל חַיָּתָֽם׃
(2) Instruct the Israelite people to assign, out of the holdings apportioned to them, towns for the Levites to dwell in; you shall also assign to the Levites pasture land around their towns. (3) The towns shall be theirs to dwell in, and the pasture shall be for the cattle they own and all their other beasts.
צו את בני ישראל ונתנו ללוים מנחלת אחוזתם ערים לשבת ומגרש לערים סביבותיהם. לשון מגרש ריוח, מקום חלק חוץ לעיר סביב להיות לנוי לעיר מקיר העיר ולחוץ אלף אמה סביב, ואינם רשאים לבנות שם בית ולנטוע שם כרם ולזרוע זריעה אלא שיהיה לבהמתם ולרכושם ולכל חיתם.
. צו את בני ישראל ונתנו ללוים מנחלת אחוזתם ערים לשבת ומגרש לערים סביבותיהם, “instruct the Children of Israel to allocate (give) to the Levites from the heritage of their possessions, cities for dwelling and an open space around their cities.” The expression מגרש describes an empty space outside the city for decorative purposes extending around the walls of a city 1,000 cubits all around that city. This area must not be used to build houses on, nor must it be used to plant trees or perform any agricultural activities. It is reserved for use by the livestock of the Levites and their free-roaming animals.

ומגרש ריוח מקום חלק חוץ לעיר סביב להיות לעיר לנוי ואין רשאין לבנות בו בית ולא ליטע כרם ולא לזרוע זריעה

AND OPEN LAND — “a space [consisting of] open land outside and around the city, in order to make the city pleasant; and they [the Levites] are not permitted to build any building there or to plant a vineyard, or to sow any crop.

וּלְרַבָּנַן נָמֵי דְּאָמְרִי אֵין עוֹשִׂין שָׂדֶה מִגְרָשׁ וְלֹא מִגְרָשׁ שָׂדֶה הָנֵי מִילֵּי זְרָעִים אֲבָל אִילָנוֹת עָבְדִינַן וְהָכָא מִשּׁוּם נוֹיֵי הָעִיר לָא
And according to the opinion of the Rabbis as well, who say that one may not convert a field into an open area, nor convert an open area into a field, one can say that this matter applies only to seeds, i.e., one may not plant seeds in a city’s open area and thereby turn it into a field. But with regard to trees, we do plant them in an open area. But here we do not plant trees, due to the beauty of the city.


What are the rules of migrash?

  • 1000 cubit green belt around the city, for decoration and free-roaming livestock

What, according to the Rabbis are the values behind migrash? How can we bring them into our garden?

  • beautification, public consciousness
וְלֹֽא־תַחֲנִ֣יפוּ אֶת־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר אַתֶּם֙ בָּ֔הּ כִּ֣י הַדָּ֔ם ה֥וּא יַחֲנִ֖יף אֶת־הָאָ֑רֶץ וְלָאָ֣רֶץ לֹֽא־יְכֻפַּ֗ר לַדָּם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר שֻׁפַּךְ־בָּ֔הּ כִּי־אִ֖ם בְּדַ֥ם שֹׁפְכֽוֹ׃
You shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land, and the land can have no expiation for blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it.
ולא תחניפו את הארץ מפני שאמר תחלה והיו אלה לכם לחקת משפט לדורותיכם בכל מושבותיכם שאלו המשפטים נוהגים גם בחוצה לארץ חזר והחמיר ביושבי הארץ יותר לכבוד השכינה אשר שם והזהיר שלא נחניף אותה ושלא נטמא אותה וענין החנופה הוא הנאמר בקללות (דברים כח לח-מ) זרע רב תוציא השדה ומעט תאסוף כרמים תטע ועבדת ויין לא תשתה זיתים יהיו לך ושמן לא תסוך כל עצך ופרי אדמתך יירש הצלצל כי כל חנופה עשות הפך הנראה והנדמה לעינים והוא עונש בארץ בע"ז ובשפיכות דמים ובגלוי עריות כמו שנאמר (ירמיהו ג א) הלא חנף תחנף הארץ והארץ חנפה תחת יושביה (ישעיהו כד ה) ותחניפי ארץ בזנותיך (ירמיהו ג ב) וענין הטומאה שתהיה הארץ טמאה ולא ישכון בה כבוד השם בהיות בה דם נקי שלא נתכפר בדם שופכו ובספרי (מסעי קסא) אמרו ולא תחניפו את הארץ הרי זו אזהרה לחנפין כי הזהיר מתחלה שלא נקח שוחד ברוצחים וחזר והזהיר שלא נחניף להם למעלתם או לתקפם וכבוד משפחתם בלי מקח שוחד כי אם אנחנו נחניף להם הנה נחניף את הארץ והיא חנפה תחת יושביה:
V’LO TACHANIPHU’ (AND YE SHALL NOT POLLUTE) THE LAND. Because He had said at the beginning: And these things shall be for a statute of judgment unto you throughout your generations in all your habitations, meaning that these judgments apply also outside the Land [of Israel], therefore He mentioned additional stringencies applying to the inhabitants of the Land [of Israel], in honor of the Divine Presence which is [especially] present there, and He warned us not to pollute it and not to defile it.
And the meaning of the term chanuphah [mentioned here, which literally means: “flattery,” or “pollution”] is that which is said with reference to the imprecations: Thou shalt carry out much into the field, and shalt gather in little; Thou shalt plant vineyards and dress them, but thou shalt neither drink of the wine; Thou shalt have olive-trees throughout all thy borders, but thou shalt not anoint thyself with oil; All thy trees and the fruit of thy land shall the locust make bare, for all expressions of chanuphah indicate doing the opposite of that which is seen by or appears to the eyes. This is the punishment [which will come] to the Land because of idolatry, bloodshed, and immorality, just as it is said, will not the Land ‘chanoph techenaph’ (become polluted)?; the earth also ‘chanepha’ (is polluted) under the inhabitants thereof; ‘vatachniphi’ (and thou hast polluted) the Land with thy harlotries. And the meaning of the term “defilement” [used in the next verse — And thou shalt not ‘defile’ the Land] is that the Land will become defiled so that the Glory of G-d will not dwell therein if there is innocent blood [shed] in it which has not been atoned for by the blood of him that shed it. Thus the Rabbis have said in the Sifre: “‘V’lo tachaniphu’ the Land — this is an admonition against flatterers.” For at first [in Verses 31-32] He warned us against taking a bribe from murderers, and then [in Verse 33 here] He warned us against flattering them because of their high position or their power, or the honor of their family, even without taking a bribe, because if we flatter them, we will thereby cause the Land to “betray” its inhabitants [as explained above].


What does the word "pollute" imply about our relationship to the land?

  • Our actions, our moral failures have a direct impact on the land we live in

How broadly does this apply? How can we bring this value into our lives?

  • Not just in Israel – this defines our relationship with the land everywhere that we are. We can understand that treating each other well and trusting in Hashem is integral to treating the land well– that wrongdoing is a pollutant (and that polluting is a wrongdoing). (Especially in an era of anthropogenic climate change, these things feel especially linked).


וַיִּסְעוּ֙ מִמָּרָ֔ה וַיָּבֹ֖אוּ אֵילִ֑מָה וּ֠בְאֵילִ֠ם שְׁתֵּ֣ים עֶשְׂרֵ֞ה עֵינֹ֥ת מַ֛יִם וְשִׁבְעִ֥ים תְּמָרִ֖ים וַיַּחֲנוּ־שָֽׁם׃
They set out from Marah and came to Elim. There were twelve springs in Elim and seventy palm trees, so they encamped there.
ויבאו אילמה ולא אמר ויחנו באילם מלמד שלא היה דעתם לחנות שם עד שנעשה להם נס שמצאו י''ב עינות מים ואז חנו שם:

And they came to Elim. And it doesn't say "And they encamped in Elim," which teaches that they did not intend to encamp there until a miracle was done for them, that they found 12 springs of water and then they encamped there.