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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Shoftim

Parashat Shofetim

Arei Miklat

4414
Dedicated to the memory of
Yaakov Ben Behora
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Murder in Rio de Janeiro or in Tel Aviv, which is worse? Well, the Mishnah teaches: "Whoever destroys one Jewish soul is considered as if he destroyed an entire world" (Sanhedrin 4:5). Murder is murder is murder.

Two mitzvot associated with homicide - arei miklat (cities of refuge) and eglah arufah (a heifer whose neck is broken) - appear in Parashat Shofetim. If we properly establish cities of refuge, we can avoid the stain to which the Torah refers: "That innocent blood be not shed in your land which Hashem your God gives you for an inheritance"(Devarim 19:10). The parallel verse in Parashat Mas'ei speaks of the Land as polluted by the innocent blood shed upon it.

Two points are noteworthy. First, the verses relating to these mitzvot emphasize the impact murder has on the earth and on the Land. Secondly, both arei miklat and eglah arufah are practiced only in Eretz Yisrael. Ramban (Vayikra 18:25) points out the apparent anomaly in that the violation of certain prohibitions relating to personal conduct and not at all dependent on the land have a catastrophic effect on the Land itself. Included in this category are sexual immorality, spilling of innocent blood and idolatry. Ramban explains that already at the world's creation Hashem placed Eretz Yisrael at the center of the inhabited earth, even though He, of course, is King of the entire world. Hashem separated Am Yisrael from all the nations, giving us Eretz Yisrael - His special portion.

Although true that murder is murder wherever it is perpetrated, one cannot compare someone who sins in his own backyard to someone who sins in the King's palace. To inhabit God's Holy Land is Am Yisrael's privilege, a privilege which also bears challenge and responsibility.

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