The Cities of Refuge (Arei Miklat) (35:9-34): The Meaning of the Term

  • Rav Elchanan Samet
 
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Dedicated by the Wise and Etshalom families 
in memory of Rabbi Aaron M. Wise, 
whose yahrzeit is 21 Tamuz. Yehi zikhro barukh.
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In memory of my beloved parents
Yaakov ben Yitzchak, Fred Stone, z”l, whose yartzeit is on 25 Tammuz,
and my mother Adia Bat Avraham, Alice Stone, z"l, whose yartzeit was 2 Tammuz.
Ellen & Stanley Stone, their children and grandchildren, Jacob & Chaya, Micah, Addie and Ruby; Zack & Yael, Allie, Isaac; Ezra & Talia, Shai, Ami; Yoni & Cayley, Azi, Kovie; Eliana & Marc, Adina, Emmy and Shira; Gabi & Talia, Adriana
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I. A place set aside for the flight of an inadvertent killer in four parashot in the Torah
 
In four different contexts, the Torah discusses the establishment of a place to which a person who inadvertently killed another person can flee:
 
1. In Parashat Mishpatim, at the beginning of the laws of damages:
 
Shemot 21:12: He who smites a man, so that he dies, shall surely be put to death. 
13: And if a man lie not in wait, but God cause it to come to hand; then I will appoint you a place to where he may flee.
14: And if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbor, to slay him with guile, you shall take him from My altar, that he may die.
 
2. In Parashat Masei we find the longest and most detailed passage (Bemidbar 35:9-34) that will be discussed in this study. The passage dealing with the cities of refuge appears here as part of a series of commands given to Moshe in Arvot Moav in anticipation of Israel's entry into the land and the eventual settlement in it. At the beginning of chapter 35, there appears the command to give the Levites special cities for them to live in throughout the country, and in this context the six cities of refuge are mentioned for the first time:
 
Bemidbar 35:6: And the cities that you shall give to the Levites, they shall be the six cities of refuge, which you shall give for the manslayer to flee there; and beside them you shall give forty and two cities. 
 
Immediately after this command, there appears the command to establish the six cities of refuge. At this point they are not discussed as cities given to the Levites, but exclusively in relation to their role as a place of refuge for inadvertent killers.
 
3. In Parashat Va'etchanan the Torah relates:
 
Devarim 4:41: Then Moshe separated three cities beyond the Jordan toward the sun-rising;
42: that the manslayer might flee there, he that slays his neighbor unawares and hated him not in time past; and that fleeing to one of these cities he might live.
 
The names and geographical location of these cities are provided in the next verse.
 
These three verses constitute a narrative divide between Moshe's first great oration (in chapters 1-4) and his second series of orations (beginning in chapter 5).
 
            According to Rashi, Ramban, and Seforno, Moshe's action served an educational purpose: "After finishing the introduction to his explanation of the Torah [= in the oration in chapters 1-4], he separated the cities, to show Israel how important is the matter of observing the mitzvot, for he took care to observe part of a positive precept" (Seforno). According to the Rashbam, it was important to introduce this short story about Moshe's action in order to understand one of the mitzvot included in his oration concerning the mitzvot, which begins immediately afterwards in chapter 5, as will be explained below.
 
4. In Parashat Shofetim (Devarim 11:1-13), Moshe repeats some of the matters discussed in the passage dealing with the cities of refuge in the book of Bemidbar, but he omits others.
 
            The main novelty in this parasha lies in the command to divide the borders of the land into three and establish cities of refuge at equal distances, and also to prepare roads leading to those cities:
 
Devarim 19:6: Lest the avenger of blood pursue the manslayer, while his heart is hot, and overtake him, because the way is long, and smite him mortally; whereas he was not deserving of death, inasmuch as he hated him not in time past.
 
In this parasha, Moshe commands only: "You shall separate three cities for you in the midst of your land, which the Lord your God gives you to possess it" (v. 2) – that is to say, in the land of Canaan west of the Jordan. Only in the future: "And if the Lord your God enlarge your border, as He has sworn to your fathers, and give you all the land which He had promised to give to your fathers… then shall you add three cities for you, besides these three" (vv. 8-9). What about the three on the east bank of the Jordan?  
 
According to the Rashbam (in his commentary to 4:41), the story concerning Moshe's separation of these cities in Devarim chapter 4, before the beginning of his oration concerning the mitzvot, is intended to answer this question: "The three cites which the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded him in Eleh Masei to establish on the [east] bank of the Jordan are not mentioned there [= in Parashat Shofetim], and Moshe did not command Israel [about them]. Therefore, it is written here [= in Devarim chap. 4] that Moshe already separated them, and therefore he did not command Israel [about them]."
 
The common denominator of all four of these contexts is the emphasis placed on the fact that the cities designated to serve as a refuge for killers provide asylum only to one who killed inadvertently. The three halakhic passages (as opposed to the narrative passage) emphasize that a deliberate killer who fled to one of the cities should be removed from there and punished with the death penalty.[1]
 
II. Miklat (“Refuge”) – The guide word in our parasha
 
The passage appearing in the book of Bemidbar is uniquely different in style from all of its parallels in the Torah: In it and only in it do we find the word miklat. The absence of this word is striking in the two contexts in the book of Devarim where these cities are discussed. (In Sefer Shemot, reference is made to "a place to where he may flee," and therefore the absence of the word miklat is less noticeable.)
 
The presence of this word in our parasha is very prominent; it is found ten times as a guide word.
 
The first five instances of the word are found in the first half of the passage (vv. 9-21), in the section that opens this half (in vv. 10-15). In this section, the mitzva is given to set aside six cities to which the inadvertent killer may flee.
 
The word miklat appears here in two different roles. The first role is to serve as an adjective describing the word "city," which appears before it: Thus, in verses 11, 13, and 14, in the repeated phrase: "and they shall be cities of refuge (to you)." The other role is to indicate the purpose of these cities, and here the word is connected to the letter lamed, which denotes purpose: "And the cities shall be to you for refuge (le-miklat) from the avenger" (v. 12); "shall these six cities be for refuge (le-miklat), that everyone that kills any person through error may flee there" (v. 15)
 
The next five instances of the word miklat appear in the second half of the passage (vv. 22-34), and they appear in each of the three sections of which it is comprised (22-25; 26-28; 29-34). After a definition is given as to who the inadvertent killer is who may flee to the city of refuge (in vv. 22-24), this city in referred to in each of its five appearances as "his city of refuge" – that is, the city of refuge of the inadvertent killer.
 
Since in this half we are dealing specifically with a killer who killed inadvertently and fled to a particular city, the word "city" (ir) appears always in the singular (whereas in the first half, it appears always in the plural) and with a pronominal suffix that associates the city with the inadvertent killer – "his refuge."
 
What, then, is the meaning of the word miklat? Modern Hebrew speakers have no difficulty understanding this word: Almost every house in Israel has an underground shelter called a miklat. Thus, the word miklat means a place of protection and shelter.
 
This meaning emerges from Targum Onkelos, who translates miklat as shezavuta, "rescue," and this is the way the word appears to have been understood by many commentators, even if this is not stated explicitly.
 
But from where do we know this? This explanation is based on the context in which the word appears several times in our parasha in connection with the killer's fleeing to these cities and away from the avenger of blood (especially in v. 12, where it is stated: "for refuge from the avenger," but also in vv. 15, 25-26).
 
But this does not suffice. The early biblical commentators and grammarians explained the meaning of the words of the Bible in two complementary ways: They examined the etymology of the word and tried to infer its meaning from that, and they also examined all the instances of the word in Scripture in different contexts, so that the explanation of the word in one place is supported by its appearance in other places in which it is found in different contexts.
 
Where, then, does the word miklat appear in other places in Scripture? It appears only in our parasha and in two other places in Scripture that are directly dependent upon our parasha![2] In other words, the word miklat is found in Scripture in only one context, a fact that raises uncertainty about any explanation of the word based on that context.[3]
 
Elsewhere, we have noted that certain literary units in the Bible enjoy stylistic uniqueness. A certain word appears in them multiple times, but is found nowhere else, or else it is exceedingly rare in other places. The appearance of that word in that literary unit – where it usually serves as a guide word – "paints" the unit in a unique linguistic shade and gives the word enhanced importance, and sometimes critical importance, for understanding the entire literary unit. But this is the problem: Because of the rarity of the word, its meaning is not always clear-cut. Sometimes it is difficult to explain the word based on the literary unit itself, without the help of its appearances in other, varied contexts.[4]
 
This, indeed, is the situation regarding the passage dealing with the cities of refuge.
 
Let us then ignore the word in its form of miklat and focus on the meaning of the root kof-lamed-tet in Hebrew. Is this root found in Scripture? In fact, it appears in only one other place that is not in the context of the arei miklat, which we will discuss in the next section. But before we do that, we will turn our attention to the root kof-lamed-tet in Rabbinic Hebrew.
 
The root kof-lamed-tet, which is common in Rabbinic Hebrew and also in Aramaic, means "to gather, to contain, to receive within." Like the word miklat in the sense of a place of protection, the root kof-lamed-tet in the sense of containment has made its way into Modern Hebrew. From it were derived terms such as basis kelita u-miyun, "absorption base," miklat radio, "radio receiver," and others. This meaning has no necessary connection to rescue and protection.
 
If we explain the phrase ir miklat in accordance with the meaning of the word miklat in Rabbinic Hebrew, it would mean the "city into which was gathered an inadvertent killer, who is now contained within it." A hint to this meaning may perhaps be found in the passage dealing with the cities of refuge in the book of Yehoshua (20:4): "… And he [the inadvertent killer] shall stand at the entrance of the city and declare his cause in the ears of the elders of that city, and they shall take him into the city to them and give him a place, that he may dwell among them." It is possible that this is the way the term ir miklat was understood by Chazal, who derived from the noun miklat the verb koletet in relation to this city, apparently in the sense of "receives within it."[5]
 
This explanation, according to which ir miklat does not mean "a city of refuge," raises the question of what the word miklat adds to these cities, to the point that it is so prominently featured in our parasha as a guide word. This was noted by the author of the Metzudot Zion commentary to Yehoshua 20:2, who writes: "Because it takes in killers, as it is not the way of other cities to allow killers to live in them."
 
We have no assurance, however, that Rabbinic Hebrew can serve as a proof as to the meaning of the word miklat in Biblical Hebrew: "The language of the Torah is distinct, as is the language of the Sages" (Avoda Zara 58b). It is possible that these are two different words from two different layers of the Hebrew language.
 
III. A bullock that is kalut and the arei miklat
 
            We stated above that the root kof-lamed-tet appears one time in Scripture not in the context of cities of refuge. We refer to Vayikra 22:23, a verse included in a list of physical blemishes that disqualify an animal from being brought as an offering on the altar:
 
Either a bullock or a lamb that is saru'a or kalut, that may you offer for a freewill-offering; but for a vow it shall not be accepted.
 
The problem is that the two blemishes mentioned in this verse have been interpreted by the commentators in different ways. It seems that kalut is saru'a's partner and is connected to it. What, then, is saru'a?
 
We will explain these two blemishes in the wake of the words of the Ibn Ezra. The blemish of saru'a is mentioned in the list of blemishes that disqualify a priest from performing the service (Vayikra 21:18):
 
For whatever man has a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that is charum or saru'a.  
 
There the Ibn Ezra explains:
 
Charum – the opposite of saru'a; charum is derived from cherem.
Saru'a – from the root mehistare'a.
 
The Ibn Ezra alludes to Yeshayahu 28:20: "For the bed is too short for a man to stretch himself (mehistare'a), and the covering too narrow when he gathers himself up" – the bed upon which the person lies is too short for him to stretch his limbs out upon it. According to this, the word saru'a denotes an extended limb, as Rashi writes: "One of whose limbs [i.e. one of a pair] is larger than the other." Alternatively, the Ibn Ezra may means that all of his limbs are larger than normal – that is to say, he is a giant.
 
Regarding the blemishes of animals (23:23), the Ibn Ezra explains:
 
Saru'a – like the first one; ve-kalut – its opposite, and it has the same sense as ir miklat.
 
We see, then, that the word kalut means that "one of its limbs is smaller than the other" (the opposite of saru'a as that term was understood by Rashi, although Rashi himself does not explain kalut in this manner), or perhaps that all of its limbs are smaller than normal (i.e. a dwarf). In fact, in Arabic the word kulat means "dwarf."[6]
 
It turns out, then, that the root kof-lamed-tet in Scripture denotes miniaturization or constriction, at least according to the Ibn Ezra and in light of the word's meaning in Arabic.
 
The Ibn Ezra connects the word kalut to the term ir miklat. According to this, ir miklat should be understood to mean "a city that constricts, makes smaller." What does it make smaller? The area in which the inadvertent killer may live. According to this explanation as well, the term ir miklat does not mean "city of refuge."
 
            This proposed interpretation of ir miklat disconnects the meaning of the inadvertent killer's residence in this city from the existence of the avenger of blood. Even without this danger, the killer must remain in his ir miklat. The reason for this is that the ir miklat, by definition, is a place of exile for the inadvertent killer.[7]
 
Indeed, according to the Mishna and the Talmud, the killer does not "flee" to the ir miklat (as the Torah formulates his movement); rather, he is exiled there. In the second chapter of Makkot ("Elu Hen Ha-Golin"), which deals with the laws of the inadvertent killer and his living in an ir miklat, the verb goleh appears thirty times. This semantic change is rooted, in our opinion, in the plain sense of the term miklat, which is the guide word in our passage.[8]
 
The term ir miklat also expresses the unique nature of the exile imposed upon the inadvertent killer. It is not just that he is obligated to leave his place and move to some other place. The ir miklat serves the exile as a miniaturized alternative to the wide-open world in which he lived until now. The ir miklat is for him a separate world – a miniature version of the outside world.
 
We will deal with the halakhic implications of this idea in the last section of our study.
 
IV. The two roles of a city of refuge
 
A question may be raised regarding the interpretation that we proposed in the previous section for the word miklat as a constricted or a constricting place. How are we to understand the verses in which the word miklat appears in the context of rescue from the avenger of blood – "And the cities shall be to you for a miklat from the avenger" (v. 12); "shall these six cities be for miklat, that every one that kills any person through error may flee there" (v. 15)? Indeed, it was these verses that gave rise to the interpretation (appearing already in Targum Onkelos) based on the context – that miklat denotes refuge and protection.
We will answer this question after a brief clarification.
 
We saw in the previous section that the inadvertent killer's residing in an ir miklat has two different and contrary roles. On the one hand, his living there is an obligation, as it serves as a place of exile that severely restricts the area in which he may live – sort of a prison. On the other hand, his living there serves as protection from the blood avenger, and in this sense it a privilege for the inadvertent killer.
 
Is there a connection between these two roles of an ir miklat? The answer to this question seems to be in the affirmative. These two roles impact upon each other and create a critical balance between them.
 
Let us first examine this connection from the perspective of protecting the killer from the blood avenger. This protection is not provided by way of walls and armed guards who prevent the blood avenger from entering the city, but by way of law. The Torah defines the legitimate area of the inadvertent killer as exclusively in the city of his exile – his refuge. In this territory, the free action of the blood avenger is banned. If he kills the inadvertent killer within this boundary, he will be executed as a murderer, and the "heat of his heart" will not exempt him from punishment. It turns out that the ir miklat, in its role as a closed and miniaturized world for the inadvertent killer and precisely because of it, creates a safe place for him to live, a place where the blood avenger has no license to kill him.
 
Now let us examine the inadvertent killer's residence in the ir miklat from the perspective of the punishment of exile that this entails. What assures that the inadvertent killer will remain in his place of exile? Once again, the city is not surrounded by fences and guards who prevent the killer from leaving. What prevents him from leaving is the threat the he will be killed outside the ir miklat by the blood avenger, who is permitted to kill him there. (In fact, even other people are not punished for killing him there, in accordance with the position of R. Akiva in Makkot 2:7.)
 
Thus, the two roles of the ir miklat create a mutual contribution. The license granted to the blood avenger to kill the inadvertent killer outside the ir miklat forces the killer not to leave it, and thus to comply with the duty of exile imposed upon him; at the same time, the absolute prohibition cast upon the blood avenger to kill the inadvertent killer within the confines of the ir miklat assures the killer of protection as long as he remains in exile there.
 
According to what we have said here, we understand the connection expressed in the verses cited above between the city being for miklat – for exile in a constricted place – and the city being a place of rescue for the inadvertent killer from the hands of the blood avenger. It is a miklat for the killer – restricting his life exclusively to its borders, and at the same restricting its area from the activity of the blood avenger.
 
V. The halakhic implications of the idea of the restriction of life in an ir miklat
 
The significance of residing in an ir miklat as a restriction of the inadvertent killer's life-space to the borders of that city was well expressed by R. Isser Yehuda Unterman z"l, Chief Rabbi of Israel, in his book, Shevet Mi-Yehuda, although he does not connect this to the word miklat.[9] We will preface his words with several points.
 
The mishna in Makkot 2:7 states:
 
He [the inadvertent killer] may not go out [from his ir miklat] to bear witness in respect of some religious observance; nor as witness in a monetary suit; nor as witness in a capital case; nor even should [all] Israel have need of him, not even if he be captain of the host like Yoav the son of Tzeruya. He may never go out, as it is stated: "He fled there," [to indicate that] "there" must be his abode, "there" his death, "there" his burial.[10] 
 
This matter aroused great difficulty among the later commentaries. Is it possible that one who can save the lives of many people, and even the lives of all of Israel, is prohibited to leave his ir miklat for that purpose?[11]
 
R. Meir Simcha of Dvinsk in his book Or Same'ach on the Rambam (Hilkhot Rotze'ach 20:8) brings proof from this mishna (and from the Rambam's formulation of the halakha that emerges from it) that:
 
Since the blood avenger is permitted to kill him [the inadvertent killer, if he leaves his ir miklat], he must not put himself in possible danger in order to rescue his fellow from certain danger.[12]
 
It should be added that according to the Or Sameach, a person must not put his life in potential danger not only to save the life of an individual, but even to save all of Israel.
 
R. Unterman raises strong objections against the words of the Or Same'ach:
 
First of all, if all of Israel need him, surely he can be assigned guards who can protect him from the blood avenger, so that he will not kill him.[13] Second, it is remarkable that when one must go out to war, when there are always great dangers… one is not exempt because of these dangers, but rather obligated to fight against the enemies. But if there is added the danger of some blood avenger, he is exempt from going out to war! Can this be?
Apart from this, from the wording of the mishna itself we see that this is not the reason that he does not go out to save lives, for were this the case, the mishna would have stated: "He may never go out from there… as it is stated: ‘But if the manslayer shall at any time go beyond the border… and the avenger of blood slay the manslayer; there shall be no blood-guiltiness for him’ (vv. 26-27).” For it is from here that we know that the avenger of blood may kill him. The mishna, however, cites a different verse, because it is stated "there" three times (so it stated explicitly in the Sifrei and the Tosefta). Therefore, we say: "There" must be his abode, "there" must be his death, "there" must be his burial. But no mention at all is made of the fact that his blood is permitted [to the avenger]![14] 
 
After rejecting the Or Same'ach's explanation of our mishna, R. Unterman proposes a different explanation:
 
The law of exile is like the death penalty for murder… for with it he is entirely cut off and separated from the external world, and he has no connection to those outside of it. For with respect to the world at large, it is as if he does not exist – until the death of the High Priest. We learn this from the fact that the Torah uses the word "there" three times with respect to the exile, telling us: "There" must be his abode, "there" must be his death, "there" must be his burial. From this we see that Scripture decrees that the exile's life and existence must be restricted exclusively to that place; with respect to the world outside its boundaries, he is like a dead man, who is exempt from the commandments[15]He has no obligation to any mitzva that has a connection to the outside world: He does not bring the Pesach offering or any other sacrifice, and he does not go out to bear witness, not even to save a life and even regarding all of Israel, as it is stated: "there."
It is clear to me that we do not come to this because of the prohibition to leave the city of refuge, for about this various authors have raised objections… that saving lives sets aside all [prohibitions]… But the answer is… that we are not dealing here with a prohibition. Rather, it is because the connection between him and the external world has been altogether severed and he is not bound by any mitzva relating to the world at large, because he lives only "there." Inside the city, he is certainly obligated in all of the commandments, but not at all with regard to that which is outside its boundaries. 
 
We suggest that this definition of the punishment of exile in a city of refuge derives from the very fact that it is a miklat in the sense explained above: a city that restricts the life of an inadvertent killer to its borders.
 
The constriction of the inadvertent killer's life to the boundaries of the ir miklat, while constituting a punishment of being cut off from the world outside, also has a positive meaning (beyond the fact that his life is protected from the blood avenger). The life that the inadvertent killer is supposed to live within his ir miklat is a full life. Not only is he obligated to fulfill there all of the mitzvot that he can possibly fulfill, but the nature of his life there must be similar to what it had been outside. From here we come to the law taught in a baraita in Makkot 10a:
 
A Tanna taught: A disciple who goes into exile is joined in exile by his master, as it is stated: "[and that fleeing to one of these cities] he might live" (Devarim 4:42). 
 
The gemara explains:
 
Provide him with whatever he needs to live.[16]
 
(Translated by David Strauss)
 

[1] In this way, among others, the protection afforded by the cities of refuge is fundamentally different from the protection of places of asylum recognized by other peoples in the ancient world:
Places of refuge were recognized by other peoples. We have evidence of such places in ancient times from Egypt, Syria, Greece, and pre-Islamic Arabia. In general, these refuges do not distinguish between innocent and guilty, between inadvertent and deliberate [offenses], but rather offer absolute protection to all who enter their gates… The refuges of these nations were temples… and among the Arabs also the tent of the prince or any distinguished person, and so too his grave. The rule was: Anyone who harms the protected person is regarded as having harmed the owner of the house. Regarding these concepts, Biblical law effected a fundamental upheaval. (Moshe Greenberg, Encyclopedia Mikra'it, vol. VI, p. 387)
See also Nechama Leibowitz's remarks in her "Studies in Devarim," Parashat Shofetim, p. 192.
[2]  In Yehoshua 22:2-6, we find God's command to fulfill what is stated in our parasha: "Assign you the cities of refuge, whereof I spoke to you by the hand of Moshe," and that command includes the main laws found in our parasha. Verses 7-9 describe the fulfillment of that command and list the names of the six cities of refuge on the two sides of the Jordan. It should be noted that at the end of that chapter, we find another name for the cities of refuge: "These were the appointed cities (arei ha-mu'ada) for all the children of Israel" (v. 9).
In I Divrei Ha-Yamim 6:39 and on, a list is provided of the cities that were given to the priests and the Levites, among which are mentioned Chevron and Shechem as cities of refuge. (Other cities of refuge are mentioned there, but they are not identified as such).
[3] In the book of Tehillim, there are several synonyms for places of protection: machaseh, tzur, ohel, metzuda, sukka, and others, but the word miklat does not appear there.
[4] We discussed this phenomenon in our study of Parashat Shelach, first series, section 3. In that same study, we discuss the root taf-vav-resh, which appears twelve times as a guide word in the story of the people who were sent to scout out the land. The interpretation of this root is the key to understanding the entire story, but there is a certain difficulty owing to the limited instances of the word in other contexts.
[5] a. For example: "Not until three cities were selected in the Land of Israel did the [first] three cities beyond the Jordan receive [koletot] fugitives… until all six could receive [koletot] fugitives" (Makkot 2:4); "Just as the city receives [koletet] fugitives, so does its boundary receive [kolet] fugitives" (Makkot 2:7).
b. The root kof-lamed-tet in Rabbinic Hebrew is used also in the sense of rescue and protection, as the root was translated by Onkelos. For example: "Great is charity… whoever gives it is praised, and he saves [kolet] himself from the punishment of Gehinnom" (Seder Eliyahu Zuta I, p. 164 in ed. Ish-Shalom). It does not say here that Gehinnom does not receive him, but rather that the charity-giver kolet atzmo – meaning, he saves himself. It is possible that this is also the meaning of Makkot 2:7: "Just as the city rescues [koletet] fugitives, so does its boundary rescue [kolet] fugitives."
[6] a. So we find in the HAVA Dictionary (an Arabic-English dictionary for classical Arabic). Yehoshua Blau, Milon Le-Tekstim Arviyim-Yehudiyim Mi-Yemei Ha-Beinayim (Jerusalem, 2006, p. 562), s.v. kilit, brings the meaning "short." This is based on the book of roots of the tenth-century Karaite grammarian David ben Avraham Alfasi (Ketav G'ama Al-Alfat), which translates saru'a ve-kalut as mesavsav ve-kilit, which Blau re-translates as mitrachev ve-katzar, "widened and short." This is like the explanation of the Ibn Ezra.
Ben Yehuda, in his dictionary, s.v., kalut (I), cites such a usage in the book Shevilei Olam of R. Shimshon Bloch (Zhovkva, 5588). Tur-Sinai (ibid. note 2) notes that some modern scholars equate the Biblical term kalut with kolat in Arabic in the sense of dwarf or pigmy, and that this is a reasonable understanding.
b. If "either a bullock or a lamb that is saru'a or kalut" refers to a giant and a dwarf, we can understand what appears to be the plain sense of the verse – that these are blemishes that are less serious than the others, and therefore "you may offer them for a freewill-offering; but for a vow it shall not be accepted." The giant and the dwarf are irregular, but no particular organ or limb is deformed. Chazal, however, did not explain saru'a and kalut in this manner (see below), and they similarly did not explain this law that "you may offer them for a freewill-offering" in its plain sense (see Rashi).
c. Chazal explained the blemish of kalut based on the meaning of the root in Rabbinic Hebrew: enclosed, connected. Thus, they explained in the Sifra and in tractate Bekhorot (40a) that its hoof is similar to that of an ass – connected and closed. Rashi explains the words accordingly. (According to this, saru'a and kalut are not opposites.)
d. It is possible that there is a connection between the meaning of the root kof-lamed-tet in Rabbinic Hebrew (to be gathered, received) and its meaning in Arabic (dwarf): A dwarf is gathered into himself.
[7] This idea, which is the essence of the halakhic understanding of the laws in our parasha, stems not only from the interpretation that we are offering to the term ir miklat, but also from the plain sense of two laws appearing in the section dealing with the cities of refuge:
a. V. 25: "… and the congregation shall restore him to his city of refuge… and he shall dwell therein until the death of the High Priest who was anointed with the holy oil" (and again in v. 28). The assignment of this time is certainly not connected to saving the inadvertent killer from the danger posed by the blood avenger (even though after the death of the High Priest, the blood avenger is certainly forbidden to kill the inadvertent killer). Rather, it stems from the idea that an inadvertent killer requires atonement; this atonement is completed with the death of the High Priest, but it continues as long as he remains in the city of refuge. This implies that the killer is obligated to reside in the ir miklat until the death of the High Priest, regardless of the danger posed by the blood avenger.
b. V. 32: "And you shall take no ransom for one who has fled to his city of refuge, that he should come again to dwell in the land, until the death of the priest." This law is a continuation of the similar law that precedes it in v. 31: "Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death; but he shall surely be put to death." A comparison of these two laws teaches that the inadvertent killer's residing in his ir miklat is regarded as his punishment, which is similar to the death penalty imposed on the deliberate killer (but, of course, a lighter punishment). The Torah forbids the substitution of a monetary ransom for either of these punishments.
If the purpose of dwelling in the city of refuge was just the protection of the killer from the blood avenger, there would be no place for these laws.
[8] What we have stated here, as well as what was stated in the previous note, counters the explanation offered by Nechama Leibowitz for the difference between the language of the Torah and that of the Mishna (Studies in Devarim, Parashat Shofetim, pp. 192-193):
How far the Torah in this way achieved its aim, to attain by restriction of the power of the blood-avenger the eventual eradication of that institution, may be seen from the difference between the language of the Torah and that of the Talmudic sages… The Mishna does not mention the flight at all but speaks merely of exile… implying that the cities of refuge were no longer needed as a protection against the angry pursuer, since the blood-avenger no longer pursued his victim. This instinct of personal vendetta had been blunted. No longer was it so deeply felt that the son who did not avenge his father's death was shirking his duty. The city of refuge remained not as an asylum but as a punishment, as exile that atoned for the iniquity.
Regarding Nechama Leibowitz's argument, the following should be noted: 1) In the time of Chazal, there were no cities of refuge at all, neither as havens from the blood avenger nor as exile to atone for sin. 2) The attitude toward blood-avenging is discussed by the Sages in the Mishna (Makkot 2:7); according to R. Yose the Galilean, it is a mitzva for the blood avenger to kill the inadvertent killer who left his city of refuge, and according to R. Akiva, it is permitted. 3) The killer's fleeing to the city of refuge is described in Makkot 2:5: "Two Torah scholars were delegated to escort the manslayer in case anyone attempted to slay him on the way, and that they might speak to him." Thus, it is clear that in the consciousness of Chazal, this "instinct of personal vendetta" had not been blunted and it was necessary to deal with it by way of officers of the court. 4) Chazal's understanding of an ir miklat as a place of punishment and exile for the inadvertent killer is well anchored in our parasha, both in the laws cited in the previous note and in the very term ir miklat as we have interpreted it. But because this conception is not sufficiently prominent in the Torah, Chazal emphasized it through the linguistic use that they made of the term "exile" in reference to the cities of refuge. 5) The concept of "blood vengeance" in the Torah and in the words of Chazal is not one of "personal vendetta" or an "instinct" that must be blunted. This is not the forum in which to expand upon this matter.
[9] I first became acquainted with his novel insight on this matter in a shiur that I heard from him when I was a young yeshiva student and he was already at the end of his term as Chief Rabbi. I later found his words in his book Shevet Mi-Yehuda (Mossad Ha-Rav Kook: Jerusalem, 5744), pp. 19-21.
[10] The derivation seems to be based on the multiple instances of the term shama ("there") regarding the ir miklat (vv. 11, 15, 25, 26). Thus: "there" shall be his abode; "there" shall be his death; "there" shall be his burial. This is also the way the matter is expounded in the Sifrei.
[11] R. Yisrael Lifshitz raised a similar objection in his commentary to the Mishna, Tiferet Yisrael:
Surely even the desecration of Shabbat is permitted in order to save a life… and anyone who saves one life in Israel is regarded as if he saved the entire world (Sanhedrin 37a). How, then, is it not permitted for this man to transgress a positive precept in order to save all of Israel, if he is like Yoav the son of Tzeruya or the like?
He goes on there at length with additional arguments.
R. Shlomo Ha-Kohen of Vilna, in his Cheshek Shelomo to Makkot 11b (printed in the Vilna Shas), reiterates the questions raised by the Tiferet Yisrael and concludes:
Were I not afraid, I would say that [the mishna] does not mean to say that he is forbidden to leave… but rather it means that even though he is obligated to go out, nevertheless this does not exempt him from exile. Rather, immediately upon completing the mitzva, he must return to his exile in the city of refuge.
This, however, is not the plain sense of the mishna. Moreover, why would we have thought that because he went out for the sake of a mitzva, he is now exempt from exile, to the point that the mishna must point out this thinking is incorrect?
The author of the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (Choshen Mishpat 428:57) explains that when our mishna states that he "does not go out," it means that we do not compel him to go out. This too does not appear to be the plain meaning of the mishna.
[12] On this point, the Or Same'ach disagrees with the Hagahot Maimoniyot (cited by the Kesef Mishneh, Hilkhot Rotze'ach 1:4) regarding the mitzva of "You shall not stand idly by the blood of your fellow," who writes: "The Yerushalmi concludes that he is obligated even to enter himself into a situation of possible danger." The Kesef Mishneh explains: "The reason seems to be that the other person is certainly [in danger], and for him the matter is in doubt." According to the Or Same'ach, not only is he not obligated to endanger himself, but he is forbidden to do so.
[13] The author of the Tiferet Yisrael raised a similar objection to a position similar to that of the Or Same'ach: "Is another Jew forbidden to lock the blood avenger in a room until the other [the inadvertent killer] rescues all of Israel?"
[14] The Tiferet Yisrael also raised this question in brief.
[15] Viewing the inadvertent killer's exile in the ir miklat, which restricts his life to the confines of that city, as partial death – or perhaps we should say as relative death (in relation to the world outside the ir miklat) – rises from the comparison that the Torah draws between the prohibition of taking a ransom "for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death" and the prohibition of taking a ransom "for one who has fled to his city of refuge." Similarly, the law of the mishna, "There shall be his abode, there shall be his death, there shall be his burial," alludes to this. But in a dialectical manner, this symbolic death protects the life of the inadvertent killer from real death at the hands of the blood avenger.
[16] a. The law taught in the baraita is followed in the gemara by the statement of R. Yochanan: "A master who goes into exile is joined in exile by his academy."
b. When the Rambam brings these laws at the beginning of the seventh chapter of Hilkhot Rotze'ach, he explains the reason offered in the gemara as follows: "For the life of one who possesses knowledge without Torah study is considered to be death."
c. An idea similar to what we have proposed in the last section of our study is found in the commentary of R. S.R. Hirsch to v. 11.