Friday, July 17, 2015

Deserving (and Earning) a Second Chance - D'var Torah for Parashat Mas'ei - July 17, 2015

The Torah reading for this Shabbat includes the instructions for the Israelites to establish six cities of refuge.    Each city of refuge - in Hebrew, IR MIKLAT - was a place where a person who unintentionally took another person's life   could find sanctuary until the death of the High Priest.  At that point,   he - or she- would be able to go free.  The grieving relative of the victim who had been killed, who sought to restore the blood balance between the two families, could do nothing to take vengeance for this inadvertent act.  
    We learn in this passage that intention matters. The Torah openly distinguished between one who committed premeditated murder and an individual who unexpectedly caused a death by accident. 
The presence of the IR MIKLAT, the city of refuge, served the purpose of sheltering the community from further violence.   
     In a way, the IR MIKLAT offered the ROTZAYACH - the manslayer - a refuge during which he or she could contemplate his or her unintentional error for months or years.   It was a sentence that would assure that one more life would not be taken.   
     To understand the feelings of the manslayer who was confined to the city of refuge, we might consider how we felt after making an unintended and regrettable mistake in something we said or did. 
How we would love to take back what happened, to turn back the clock, to avoid any negative consequences that ensued!
      Errors like these have the potential to cause loss of friendship, or a job, or self-respect, or the respect of others.  At those times, we ourselves might want to flee to a place of refuge that would allow us to regain our self-confidence and deal with feelings of remorse and regret.      
    Hopefully, there are people in our lives who create a space for us that is like an IR MIKLAT, an equivalent to a city of refuge.  Friends, family members and colleagues are often present to provide us with unconditional support as we heal from unwitting actions that hurt us and others as well.     Their fellowship and advice can bring us back to the community with the possibility of healing any wounds that may continue to linger. 
   The news of this week  led me to consider another dimension of the concept and purpose of the IR MIKLAT. 
After the fatal shootings in Chattanooga, Tennessee yesterday and the verdict handed down in the trial of the Aurora, Colorado shooter,  we may feel that we as a society are in desperate need of refuge from such tragedies.     
    Add to those events the fears expressed before, during and after the negotiations that resulted in the agreement with Iran which was concluded this week.   Those apprehensions are serious and real.  For some diplomats involved in discussions with Iran, there may be hopes that are real as well.  Will this pact engender trust and cooperation?  Or will it offer opportunities for further proliferation of power, violence, tyranny and hatred?   
     In our daily lives, we harbor the hope that we can find some degree of refuge which would provide us with second chances that will enable us to move beyond past mistakes with renewed self assurance. We need time to contemplate regrettable episodes so that we can deepen our personal insight to guide our behavior in the future.  And we pray that anyone who promises to act with less aggression will move further along that path even if they had no intention to do so. 
The practices related to the city of refuge taught that ritualized restraint has the potential to allow, as we often say, cooler heads to prevail.   
May that wisdom from the Torah lead us to the understanding that can, in our own lives, turn fear into hope, conflict into cooperation, indifference into concern, and enmity into peace.      

Numbers 35:22-29
[22] But if [a man] pushed without malice aforethought or hurled any object at [the victim] unintentionally,  [23] or inadvertently dropped upon [the victim] any deadly object of stone, and death resulted - though not being an enemy and not seeking to harm – [24] in such cases the assembly shall decide between the slayer and the blood-avenger. [25] The assembly shall protect the killer from the blood-avenger, and the assembly shall restore him to the city of refuge to which he fled, and there he shall remain until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the sacred oil. [26] But if the killer ever goes outside the limits of the city of refuge to which he has fled, [27] and the blood-avenger comes upon him outside the limits of his city of refuge, and the blood-avenger kills the killer, there is no bloodguilt on his account. [28] For he must remain inside his city of refuge until the death of the high priest; after the death of the high priest, the killer may return to his land holding.           [29] Such shall be your law of procedure throughout the ages in all your settlements.

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