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I DIDN'T MEAN TO

by Rabbi Yehoshua Brotsky    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"Run! Run for your life! Don't turn back, just keep on running!. Follow the signs, they'll take you directly to the closest one."

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"Run! Run for your life! Don't turn back, just keep on running!. Follow the signs, they'll take you directly to the closest one."

One of the mitzvot discussed in this week's Torah portion is that of Ir Miklat, a city constructed for the purpose of protecting a person who killed someone accidentally. The need for protection stems from the looming threat of the go'el hadam, literally "the redeemer of blood", on the life of the accidental murderer. In certain situations, the Torah gives permission to a relative of the murdered person to avenge the death of his loved one by executing the murderer. However, that right extends only until the accidental murderer reaches one of the cities of refuge.

Parshat Va'etchanan, as well as the rest of the book of Deuteronomy, records the events that took place on the eastern side of the Jordan River overlooking the land of Israel proper. The eastern bank is often referred to as Eiver HaYarden - the other side of the Jordan. It was previously ruled by the two great kings, Sichon and Og, and was miraculously conquered by Moses himself. As a punishment for not speaking to the rock, Moses was forbidden from crossing the Jordan into the land of Israel.

In this week's portion, Moses sets up the three cities in Eiver HaYarden that will later be used as cities of refuge (Deuteronomy 4:41). The commentaries point out that these cities did not acquire the Halachic status to protect accidental murderers until after the Jewish people entered the land of Israel, conquered the nations living there, and established three more cities of refuge there. Nevertheless, Moses was still eager to establish these cities, as it was an opportunity to partake in the performance of a mitzvah.

Although the purpose of the cities of refuge was to protect people who killed someone, this is only if it was unintentional. However, if one killed on purpose he would be brought to a Jewish court and put to death. Like many other aspects of Jewish law, this punishment cannot be enforced without the direct testimony of two kosher witnesses. Thus, if one would kill a person without witnesses observing the crime, the murderer would not be forced to run to the Ir Miklat because nobody would conclusively know that he had killed someone.

The Talmud in Tractate Makot relates an interesting story of two men who were both murderers. One had killed accidentally while the other was a real murderer. In both cases there were no witnesses. As with everything in life, we know that Hashem directs the world's events with a Divine hand. The two men inadvertently rented rooms in the same motel. They got together one day and decided to climb a ladder. The accidental murderer was climbing up the ladder while the intentional murderer was standing at the foot of the ladder. The first man was negligent and fell off the ladder, landing directly on the second man and accidentally killing him. There were two witnesses who saw the ordeal, thereby forcing the man to run to the city of refuge! The man who deserved death for intentionally murdering someone was killed, while the man who deserved to be exiled was seen killing unintentionally, an act which resulted in his being sent to a city of refuge. We see clearly the infinite wisdom of Hashem, how He caused justice to come to this case.

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Rabbi Yehoshua Brotsky, an educator at the Hebrew Academy of Suffolk County in New York, is married to Elisheva Ginian of Atlanta.

You are invited to read more Parshat Va'etchanan articles.

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