SALT - Wednesday, 25 Tammuz 5777 - July 19, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

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This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of my grandfather 
Rav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l, whose yahrzeit is
22 Tamuz, July 16.

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Refua sheleima to
Malka Sarel bat Batya
and
Yosef ben Gracia,
the 450th! kidney donor/recipient team
arranged by Matnat Chaim.
May they be an inspiration to us all!

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            Parashat Masei tells of several commands that God issued in anticipation of Benei Yisrael’s entry into the Land of Israel, including the designation of special cities to serve as places of refuge for people who accidentally killed and may be targeted by the victim’s relatives (chapter 35).  The Torah states (35:13-14) that six cities should be designated as arei miklat (cities of refuge), three on either side of the Jordan River.  Earlier (35:6), we read that these six cities were among the forty-eight cities throughout the Land of Israel that were earmarked for the tribe of Levi. 

            Surprisingly, the Gemara in Masekhet Makkot (10a) comments that although the Torah appears to indicate that only six Levite cities functioned as arei miklat, in truth, this role was served by all forty-eight Levite cities.  The difference between the six primary arei miklat and the other forty-two, the Gemara explains (citing Abayei), is that the six primary cities protected inadvertent killers even she-lo mi-da’at (“unknowingly”), meaning, even if the killer arrived at the city without the intention of seeking refuge.  In the other forty-two cities, the killer was protected from vengeful relatives of the victim only if he went there intentionally for this purpose.  Later (Makkot 13a), the Gemara adds another distinction, according to one view among the Tanna’im.  The Mishna records a debate among the Tanna’im as to whether inadevertent killers seeking refuge in an ir miklat were required to pay rent to their Levite landlords.  Rabbi Yehuda maintained that the refugees were indeed required to pay for their living quarters, whereas Rabbi Meir held that the Levite homeowners offered them living space free of charge.  The Gemara clarifies that this debate refers only to the forty-two secondary arei miklat.  In the six primary cities, however, even Rabbi Yehuda agrees that the refugees were entitled to reside there without pay.  Thus, according to Rabbi Yehuda, the issue of rent marks a second point of distinction between these two groups of cities.

            Two commentators to the Chumash – the Or Ha-chayim (35:6) and the Panim Yafot (35:14) – also note a third distinction.  Namely, if no room was left for refugees in one of the six primary arei miklat, then the permanent Levite residents of the city would have to leave in order to make room to accommodate inadvertent killers seeking refuge.  Since these cities served primarily as arei miklat, and served only secondarily as places of residence for the tribe of Levi, the Levite townspeople had to give way to accommodate inadvertent killers.  The other forty-two Levite cities, however, served primarily as places of residence for the Leviyim, and thus when room ran out, inadvertent killers seeking refuge would have go to one of the other arei miklat.

            Yet another difference between the two groups of arei miklat is noted by Rav Meir Simcha Ha-kohen, in his Meshekh Chokhma (35:13).  He writes that the six primary arei miklat functioned in this capacity even if no Leviyim resided there, whereas the other forty-two served as cities of refuge only if they were inhabited by Leviyim.  Rav Meir Simcha cites the Gemara’s comment towards the end of Masekhet Sota (48b) that after the destruction of the First Temple, there were no longer special cities designated for the Leviyim.  Accordingly, Rav Meir Simcha asserts, during the Second Temple period, there were only six arei miklat.  The status of the six primary cities was intrinsic, and did not depend upon the presence of Leviyim, whereas the status of the other forty-two cities was a function of their being Levite cities.  Hence, once they no longer served as places of residence for Leviyim, they ceased functioning as cities of refuge, as well.