by Zvi Akiva Fleisher
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SEDRAH SELECTIONS PARSHAS MASSEI 5768 BS"D
Ch. 33, v. 4: "U'Mitzrayim m'kabrim eis asher hikoh Hashem bo'hem kol b'chor uveiloheihem ossoh Hashem shfotim" - And the Egyptians are burying those whom Hashem smote every firstborn and in their gods Hashem extracted punishment - The verse should have said, "U'Mitzrayim m'kabrim kol b'chor asher hikoh Hashem bo'hem." The order of words indicates that they buried everyone that Hashem smote, who was a person with the title of "b'chor." Rabbi Yoseif Bchor Shor therefore translates "eloheihem" as their prestigious people, such as a judge, called "elohim." "U'veiloheihem" is a continuum of "kol b'chor," explaining that not only a firstborn, but also an "elohim," whom Hashem smote was also being buried.
Ch. 33, v. 6: "Va'yachanu v'Eisom asher biktzei hamidbor" - And they rested in Aisom which was at the edge of the desert - Compare this with "B'Aisom biktzei hamidbor" (Shmos 12:37). The reson it is more defined here is because there is the possibility that there is another Aisom, so our verse tells us that they rested at an Aisom that was located at the edge of the desert. In parshas B'shalach the intention of the verse is just to tell us that they were about to enter the desert and not to pinpoint the exact location of entry, hence no "asher." (N'tzi"v in Haameik Dovor)
Ch. 35, v. 25: "V'heishivu oso ho'eidoh el ir mikloto asher nos shomoh" - And the court congregation shall return him to the city of his refuge to which he has escaped - Although there are a total of 48 cities in which one can take refuge, the Torah insists that he be sent back to the same city. This is because we are discussing a person who killed, and as required, he immediately seeks refuge in one of these cities. He is taken to court, under guard, to be judged if his act was intentional or accidental. When he is judged to have acted unintentionally, he goes back to a city of refuge. The Torah insists that he go back to the same city so that he clear himself of the mistaken thought that he killed intentionally. If he were to go to another city of refuge, people in the earlier city of refuge might think that he was found guilty of an intentional act. He must therefore go back to the same city and clear his name, saying that the court found him guilty only of an accidental act. (Ralbag)
Ch. 35, v. 25: "V'yoshav boh ad mose haKohein hagodol" - And he shall reside in it until the death of the Kohein Godol - What connection is there between the death of the Kohein Godol and the term of exile of an accidental killer in a city of refuge?
1) The Kohein Godol is supposed to enlarge and expand sanctity among the bnei Yisroel. One who kills lessens sanctity (see gemara Shabbos 33a). These opposing actions are in conflict and cannot come together. Therefore the accidental killer is relegated to a city of refuge. Once the Kohein Godol who presided at the time of the killing is no longer among us, the accidental killer is free to live anywhere. (Rashi)
2) The Kohein Godol, the man who has the position of the holiest person should have prayed that such an accident should not happen. Because he did not pray sufficiently, he is also held responsible for the death. Once he has died there is some amelioration of the sin and the actual killer may go free. (Rashi)
There might be another insight into this explanation. Since the Kohein has fallen short in his duty of praying for the avoidance of a person killing another, the accidental killer who is now stuck in a city of refuge will pray to Hashem to punish the Kohein Godol. Hashem will indeed punish the Kohein Godol and he will die an untimely death (see Rashi on the gemara Makos 11b d.h. "mai havi lei"). We must again say that upon the Kohen Godol's death there is some expiation of the sin and the actual killer may then go free.
Another slight variation on this theme is to be found in Targum Yonoson ben Uziel. He says that the Kohein Godol should have prayed on Yom Kippur when in the Holy of Holies that the bnei Yisroel should not stumble in any of the three cardinal sins, including killing someone. If indeed someone kills the Kohein Godol will die that year. (If this is so for an accidental killing, all the more so for intentional murder. It is thus surprising that a Kohein Godol survived for more than a year.)
3) The Kohein Godol is also held to count for reacting to wrong-doing. If the accidental killer is free to go wherever he wishes, he will appear in front of the Kohein Godol as well. People will criticize the Kohein Godol for not taking the law into his own hands and extracting punishment from the accidental killer. He is therefore relegated to a city of refuge and will not appear in front of the Kohein Godol. Out of sight is out of mind. Once the Kohein Godol dies, the killer is free to go. People will not hold the new Kohein Godol to account for a killing that took place when he wasn't even in appointed yet. (Baalei Tosfos, Paa'nei'ach Rozo, Chizkuni)
4) We have a situation where a zealous blood redeemer has the right/responsibility to kill the accidental killer. The Torah gives him this right because he is enraged at the loss of a loved one. Once the Kohein Godol has died, and this is a national tragedy because he is usually the most beloved personage of the nation, the blood redeemer is emotionally somewhat appeased, because everyone else has also had an emotionally devastating loss of a loved one, the Kohein Godol. The killer is now free to go to because it is quite unlikely that the blood redeemer will take any action against him. (This seems psychologically to go along with the theme "tzoras rabim nechomoh" mentioned by the Chinuch in mitzvoh #331. A source for the saying "tzoras rabim chatzi nechomoh" would be appreciated.)
5) The accidental killer must flee to a city of refuge. All the cities of refuge were cities designated for the L'viim. The head of the L'viim is the Kohein Godol, who is also a Levi. He is like a king over these cities. The accidental killers residing in these cities are free to go upon his death, similar to when a king dies and a new one is appointed. He usually frees the criminals in jail to give them a new start under his leadership. (Rashbam)
6) The Kohein Godol is considered the greatest prson of the generation. With the death of a great tzadik, his generation's sins are expiated. The accidental killer is therefore free to leave his city of exile. (Ralbag)
7) There are no doubt varying degrees of negligence on the part of different accidental killers. They deserve having to be exiled, but for varying lengths of time. Hashem, Who knows exactly how long each person deserves, brings about that each accidental killer does his act at a certain juncture in the Kohein Godol's life. When the Kohein Godol dies, one person has been in the city of refuge for a year, another for twenty years, etc. Hashem orchestrates that each person receive his just punishment. (Haksav V'hakaboloh)
Further explanation is required to clarify why this is in tandem specifically with the life of the Kohein Godol. 8) The death of the Kohein Godol is such a blow to everyone and sets people into thinking of the ephemeral nature of life. This has a very calming effect on the seething anger experienced by the blood redeemer. The accidental killer is now free to go because the blood avenger will likely not act any more. (Abarbanel)
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