This week I would like to focus on the end of sefer Bamidbar, and I apologize to the members of my gemara shiur this year who may have heard some of these ideas recently.
The overall purpose of Bamidbar seems to relate to us the travels and travails of Am Yisrael in the desert during the forty years. From the first census and the triumphant march surrounding the Mishkan to the destructive episodes of rebellion and heresy we have followed Klal Yisrael to the very threshold of Eretz Yisrael. The final touches are being added to the scene before we are to hear the speech of Moshe Rabenu at the start of the next sefer.
In Maasei we open with a recounting of the various camping stations of AmYisrael, which is both written and read in the form of a poem or song. We continue to read about the Mitzvah of conquering the land and its borders. The representatives of each tribe are introduced for purposes of division of the land and finally an endnote is added to close the logistical problem established by the Bnot Zelaphchad. All seems to fit in order.
All but one issue. In the middle of the series mentioned above is the parsha of Ir Miklat, the cities of refuge for the unintentional murder. What is this doing here? Why is this parsha placed in what seems to be a perfectly well built unit?
One could suggest that the reason it is mentioned here is as part of the division of the land. Each tribe is given their land and we are told that the leviim do not receive a formal Nachlah but rather are entitled to cities among the various places in Eretz Yisrael. These cities also serve as arei miklat. In other words the Torah after describing one type of Ir Miklat says “By the way the details of this Ir Miklat business are ….”. If this were to be the only explanation I would have found it difficult to explain the great detail that the Torah goes into here. It would have sufficed to mention the cities by name and not create such a clear break in the flow of the parsha.
In addition to this question I would like to focus upon another instance in which the parsha of Ir Miklat seems to be out of place or proportion. In Devarim perek 19 we find the details of Ir Miklat mentioned again. Here we encounter an interesting issue. The cities were divided into geographical regions, three cities on the East side of the Yarden and three on the West. In pasuk 9 we are told that if we keep all the mitzvoth and love Hashem etc.. we will merit additional territory and we will add yet another three cities.
This wonderful promise seems a bit strange. Had we been promised more land I think that the bracha would have been apparent, but why is it phrased that “you will be so fortunate to be able to add another three cities in order to protect those that have killed by accident”? Could we not have had a more inspiring way of describing the expanding borders?
If we combine the two questions together we begin to see that the parsha of Ir Miklat was not simply placed where it is in Maasei by association but somehow the issue of Ir Miklat is itself a manifestation of the borders of Erertz Yisrael. What is meant by this association?
I think that we can suggest that the principle at work here is the purpose of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael. We are commanded to not only to conquer the land but also to establish a just society in the land. The immoral behavior of the Canaanim and their injustice is what drove them out of the land, and ironically the same sins that eventually drove Am Yisrael out generations later. The Torah mandates to us to set up a just society, which of course is the focus of the parshat Shoftim in sefer Devarim that we quoted earlier. This society has to be able to deal with every eventuality that may come up in a manner that exudes the will of G-d.
One of the most sensitive issues, if not the most sensitive issue, is that of the unintentional murderer. The system of justice is in a very difficult spot. On one hand there has been a tragic loss of life and the family is so distraught that the Torah assumes that they may try to avenge the death. Punishing the killer would seem to be the obvious step, yet the crime lacks the most basic element necessary for punishment- intent. How can we punish an individual for something that they did not try to do?
What is the solution to this dilemma? The Torah establishes the institution of the Ir Miklat, which is to meet the needs of both sides and the objective justice in the best way possible. It is interesting to follow the many laws of Ir Miklat to note whether they are “privilege” or “punishment” and how many of the laws form a psychological base of dealing with the trauma of having taken a human life albeit, by accident.
If our system of justice can not only punish the guilty and protect the innocent, but as well when needed protect the guilty and punish the innocent we are truly worthy of a bracha.
In a word the Ir Miklat represents the cutting edge of the judicial system. The promise of expanding borders is both, dependant on, and manifested by, our ability to apply Hashem system of justice in Eretz Yisrael.