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For he must remain in his refuge city until the death of the kohen gadol. After the death of the kohen gadol the murderer may return to the land of his possession. (Bamidbar 35:28).
In this week’s parsha, we learn about the laws of the inadvertent murderer. The Torah instructs the inadvertent murderer to take refuge from the relatives of his victim in specially-designated cities of refuge and remain there until the death of the kohen gadol.
Rashi explains that the freedom of the murderer is dependent upon the death of the kohen gadol because the kohen gadol is partly responsible for the murder; he should have prayed that such a tragedy would not occur.
Let us suggest an additional explanation. The commentators make it clear that although the murder was unintentional, the murderer was still negligent. He should have been careful to prevent even a possibility that he might cause another’s death. Indeed, when the death was completely out of his control he is exempt from entering the cities of refuge and the relatives of the victim are not permitted to harm him.
The root cause of the inadvertent murderer’s guilt was his failure to value the life of another person. Although he did not consider the life of another very valuable, it was very dear to the victim and his family.
The murderer is sent to the cities of refuge, which were run by the Levim. The Levim did not engage in worldly matters to support themselves. Instead they were supported by the Jewish people. They spent their days immersed purely in spiritual pursuits.
Every person has role models. The field of occupation and interests of each individual cause him to look up to the pioneers and leaders of that particular field. The kohen gadol was certainly cherished by the entire Jewish people. Those who appreciated him the most, however, were the Levim. They were occupied with spiritual pursuits and had the background and sensitivity to appreciate the unique qualities of the spiritual leader of the Jewish people.
It is thus paradoxical that when the inadvertent murderer is sent to the cities of refuge he must wait for the death of the kohen gadol. It is only natural for the inadvertent murderer to at least subconsciously anticipate the death of the kohen gadol. His freedom depends on it. The life of the kohen gadol was thus not very dear to him. The murderer however finds himself surrounded by people who idolize the kohen gadol. The life that is of not much value to the inadvertent murderer is of the utmost value to those around him. This is the measure for measure that that the Torah meted out to the inadvertent murderer. This mindset is exactly what brought him there in the first place. He did not value the life of a person that was of great value to others. He will now be forced to reflect upon this for his remaining days in the cities of the Levim.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5765/2005