Parshas Masei
Numbers 33:1 - 36:13

Boundaries of Refuge ©
By Dr. Akiva G. Belk

This study of the weekly parsha is dedicated in the loving memory of Mr. Samuel and Mrs. Miriam Goodman, may they rest in peace.

If a person were to accidentally kill someone he could flee to a city of refuge. Then the congregation of that city had the duty to determine if the killer would be permitted sanctuary within their city. If the killer who sought sanctuary were granted refuge in the city, the blood avenger would be prohibited from revenge as long as the killer remained within the boundaries of the city of refuge. The killer was safe there. If the killer were to venture outside the city of refuge, the blood avenger could kill him and nothing would be done.

The six cities of refuge were designed for accidents. The residents of those cities were required to live with the killer. You can be sure they weighed every case carefully given that fact. This was the system Hashem established.

This teaches us that unfortunate accidents do happen. If an accident happens there is a remedy. If we observe the guidelines of the remedy we will be safe. If we venture outside of the boundaries of the remedy we could die.

The question could be asked, why couldn't the person who accidentally killed another return to his former lifestyle? The fact is that even though it was an accident the Torah requires responsibility of the killer. I use the word responsibility not punishment. The killer would have to live responsibly the rest of his life. He would have to live within the boundaries established by the Torah. One could say his life was on the line.

What does one do when his life is on the line? People who struggle for years attempting to conquer a habit often find the strength to accomplish this when their lives are on the line. Yet others have a different philosophy. Their feeling is you have to die sometime. Why not die doing something you enjoy?

What does one do when his life is on the line? Does he venture outside the safety of the city of refuge? Does he pray for the death of the Kohen Godal, G-d forbid? What does he do?

In a similar way the Torah poses...'You have my laws. You understand my laws. Observing them can bring great blessing, life and happiness. On the other hand, wandering outside of their established guidelines could result in the decay of one's soul, death and great difficulty. What will you do?'

The concept of the city of refuge teaches us that our lives will be altered if we, G-d forbid, are involved in another person's accidental death. The person who is involved in such a horrible accident understands his way of life will change if he desires the protection offered by the congregation within the city of refuge. This does not mean he will be devoid of quality of life. It means living has certain restrictions. It teaches devotion to a defined way of life. It teaches limitations for one's own personal safety. It also teaches exclusion. It could mean exclusion from one's profession, one's family, both joyful and sad occasions. It certainly means exclusion from one's home, property and any plans to vacation outside of the city boundaries. Does it also mean one is prohibited from the three required trips to Yerushalyim to appear before Hashem? If so that certainly represents very serious religious separation from Kal Yisroel. It represents the prohibition to offer sacrifices in the Bais Ha Mikdash, the Holy Temple...

Depending upon the age of the Kohen Godal and upon the age of the killer one could easily spend fifty or sixty or even more years confined to the boundaries of a city. Does that begin to take on more of a feeling of penalty? It may... Yet, it is just and it is righteous!

So we learn from this that certain actions may require carrying a pack for fifty or sixty years and maybe even one's entire lifetime. By now we should be asking, "Why would Hashem impose such conditions, such restrictions?" Why would the time a person was restricted to live within the boundaries of refuge be dependent upon the Kohan Godal?

There are several opinions:

First, "As he {the Kohan Godal} causes the Divine Presence to reside in Israel, and lengthens their lives, while the murderer causes the Divine Presence to leave Israel, and shorten lives..." Rashi

Second, "He {the killer} is unworthy of being in the presence of the Kohen Godal." Rashi

Third, The Kohen Godal should have prayed that this accidental death not occur in Yisroel during his lifetime.

Clearly this is a test of righteousness upon the part of the killer. The normal reaction of the killer may be to pray that the Kohen Godal should die. A killer who may choose to pray such a prayer may pray often and fervently, actually feeling in some way that the Kohen Godal was responsible for his failings.

On the other hand, the killer may pray in opposition to his feelings that the Kohen Godal live a very long and holy life and that Hashem should be gracious by adding years onto his life.

It is clear that Hashem binds the killer and the Kohen Godal together. I wonder how the Kohen Godal prays knowing there are killers within the six cities of refuge waiting, maybe longing, possibly even praying for his death. How does he react to that? Does he pray that they die in the city of refuge? Does he pray that they go crazy and lose their minds? Does he ask Hashem to end his life so they may go free? Does he intercede in their behalf when he places his hands upon the scapegoat at Yom Kippur? Does he blame himself? Does he consider the accidental death at the hand of the killer his responsibility?

Now that we have examined some of the restrictions of the city of refuge and the possible feelings of the killer and the possible feelings of the Kohen Godal, we arrive at the conclusion that both the killer and the Kohen Godal live within boundaries. The Kohen Godal has his boundaries within the Temple area and the killer has his boundaries within the city of refuge. We learn from this that the Kohen Godal's area of responsibility is exceedingly great. To even consider that he may be responsible for an accidental death simply because he failed to pray often and fervently that it not happen in his lifetime in Israel is a very great and heavy burden. Yet, it is his responsibility and if such an accident were to occur he would indeed feel partially responsible if he is indeed a seriously righteous man. Without question, the response to such an action would be serious introspection and prayer and increased awareness of the great responsibility of his position. If he failed in these areas, it is very likely that he ventured outside his area of safety and as a result could die.

So from this we learn how the Kohen Godal and the killer are bound together with boundaries, with living and dying and with righteousness. Like the Kohen Godal and the killer, we as Jews are bound to the Torah.

Wishing you the very best.

Kindest regards,

Dr. Akiva G. Belk

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