The Torah in Parashat Shoftim reviews the laws of the arei miklat – the cities of refuge where people who accidentally killed would find protection from the victim’s vengeful relatives. In discussing the topic of arei miklat, the Torah refers to this law with the phrase “devar ha-rotzei’ach” (literally, “the matter of the killer” – 19:4). The Gemara in Masekhet Makkot (12b) infers from the word “devar,” which can mean “speech,” that the killer must verbally inform the people in the ir miklat where he seeks refuge that he had inadvertently killed as a result of negligence. More specifically, the Gemara establishes that if the townspeople wish to treat the new arrival with honor – such as if he is a person of stature – he must inform them of why he had come to live with them, that he had negligently killed another person.
This halakha perhaps reminds us of the need for complete honesty when we introspect and assess ourselves. Often, we make the mistake of viewing ourselves the way we assume others view us. At times, this results in harmful low self-esteem and overly harsh self-criticism, when people judge us unfairly without taking into account all the various different factors, of which only we ourselves are aware. At other times, however, this results in too charitable an assessment. When people accord us respect and honor, we can easily be misled into thinking too highly of ourselves, assuming that the respect shown to us reflects genuine stature and accomplishment. The halakha regarding an inadvertent killer perhaps represents the need to remind ourselves of who we are when people treat us with respect. Of course, we are not required to publicize our failings and shortcomings the way the inadvertent killer is required to inform the townspeople that he was guilty of criminal, fatal negligence. Nevertheless, we might learn from this halakha to at very least “inform” ourselves of the truth, to remind ourselves that what people see and think of us is not always an accurate reflection of who we are. The process of introspection requires making an honest assessment based on what we know of ourselves, rather than relying on the respect and compliments we receive from others as a basis for feeling content and satisfied with who we are.
(Based on a sicha of the Tolna Rebbe)