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Shabbat Parashat Matot-Masei| 5764

Sociology, Cities of Refuge, and Cities of Levites

Harav Yosef Carmel

 In our parasha, the Torah commands to set aside both arei miklat (cities of refuge for unintentional murderers) and arei Levi’im (cities of Levites). These are not just similar sounding commandments, as the two types of cities are interconnected. “The cities that you shall give to the Levites: the six arei miklat that you shall give for the murderer to escape to, and upon them you shall give forty-two cities” (Bamidbar 35:6). Even in the desert, before the arei miklat existed, the Levi’im’s encampment already absorbed unintentional murderers (Zevachim 117a). Additionally, all of the additional 42 arei Levi’im served as arei miklat, as well (Makot 13a). We must, therefore, understand the connection between the functions of arei miklat and arei Levi’im.
 The Torah also connects between the life and death of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and the obligation of exile in the arei miklat for the murderer. “For in his ir miklat he shall dwell until the death of the Kohen Gadol, and after the death of the Kohen Gadol, the murderer shall return to the land of his inheritance” (Bamidbar 35:28). Apparently, the responsibilities of the Kohen Gadol are not limited to ritual service in the Temple. He is responsible no less for the spiritual state of the nation and to ensure that the spiritual atmosphere of the Temple positively influences everyone’s behavior and moral standing. Therefore, when the social situation is such that the value of human life is not high enough on the public’s agenda, the spiritual leader must shoulder much of the blame. Even an unintentional murderer requires the atonement of the leader as well, and only when the leader dies may the murderer return home.
 But where does the murderer live during exile? Is it sufficient that he change his residence in order that he should be encouraged to contemplate his predicament? The Torah teaches that this is not sufficient. He must live in a place where those who are responsible for the moral, spiritual level of the nation live. The gain is double. First of all, the murderer is reminded daily of the need to improve his values. The Sefer Hachinuch (408), in a similar vein, explains that the holiness of the land of arei Levi’im helps atone for them. (Another factor that he cites is that it is not feared that the Levi’im will kill the intentional murderer even if he killed someone close to them).
 The other factor that is gained by the interaction between the murderer and the Levi’im is that the Levi’im, the members of the Kohen Gadol’s tribe, are reminded of their responsibility to influence the murderer, as well as potential future ones throughout society. While Levi’im had spiritual leadership as a birthright, others can accept it upon themselves. (See Rambam at the end of the laws of Shemitta and Yovel, that anyone who is truly inspired to do so can do so). But they must realize that this status obligates them to be responsible for the social, spiritual level of the nation as a whole.
 At a time of the year when many are on the road, we must remember that unintentional murder is quite prevalent in our days. After all, is a fatality in a car accident not exactly that?! How many otherwise wonderful people are irresponsible drivers. Drivers, and those who have moral influence on them, should show their respect for the value of life by acting with a realization that life and death is in the hands of … the steering wheel and the gas pedal.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim
 is dedicated to the memory of
R’ Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.

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