The Torah discusses the Cities of Refuge again. It was already discussed at the end of Chumash Bamidbar but each time it adds a certain dimension that was not brought up before. It says in the beginning of Chapter 19, “When Hashem your God will cut down the nations whose land Hashem Your God gives to you, and you will possess them, and you will settle in their cities and in their houses….” (19:1). Even though this chapter is dealing with Cities of Refuge, it has stipulated something else in the first verse. It is a brachah that in settling the land of Canaan and possessing it and creating the Land of Israel, Hashem grants the Jewish people the opportunity not to have to build the cities from scratch. You will drive out the non-Jewish element and take over their cities and their homes. You will live in homes that were built by non-Jewish people and you will possess them. This is a major brachah.
The Torah describes to us the role of the judges, the Kohanim, the king, and all religious leaders and political figures in this Sedrah, and then later we will see it in the course of the narrative throughout the Books of Yehoshua and Judges, and the Books of Samuel and the Books of Kings. Each segment of Jewish leadership in the nation is granted authority and powers as well as importance of government-ordained institutions. This does not negate the sanctity of life given to each individual. It is difficult sometimes for all the pieces of the national puzzle to blend together properly. There is always a ruling party, a new government, and an opposition party as well. It is proper for national leaders to contend for leadership roles but then it is even more important that the roles complement each other and they begin to learn to work together for the benefit of the nation as a whole. We saw this in ancient times through the narrative in TaNaCH. We also see it post-TaNaCH period again and again in Jewish history in the Land of Israel. Society today also has certain divisions of leadership and they still have to work together for the benefit of the people.
The law of the accidental killer is subject to analysis by the court. Was it really accidental? If the two individuals have a history of hate between them, that mars the possibility of accepting the death as an accidental killing. This is what the Torah is talking about when it mentions that the killer “hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him and rises up against him…” (19:4). The Midrash explains that the question of a relationship of hatred in essence refers to anyone who did not speak with his fellow man for three days out of hatred. This is a potent statement because we are now defining the “accidental” killing as being intentional because of a past behavior and the sense of enmity that exists between the two parties. So, if a person ends up injuring or killing another individual whom it is known that he hates, the court will assume that there was some malice in this incident. We see this over and over again and it makes relationships very difficult if two parties are living in hatred.
There is a cogent example in “The Godfather.” The godfather is making peace with the other Mafia families after his son Michael had killed one of them and is now returning. The godfather says to his compatriots that if anything happens to his son, even an accident, or if he is hit by lightning, the other members will be faulted because there was a previous sense of hatred towards his son. It is the same premise we see here in the Parsha.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman