At the end of Parshat Shoftim, the Torah discusses the rather unusual Halacha of Eglah Arufah. We are told that if a person is killed between two cities, and we do not know the city from which the murderer came, a calf is brought by the cities and its neck is broken as the elders pray for forgiveness. This process seems very peculiar. What is the reason for this ritual?
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains the reason for this procedure. He says that at first, one might think that the cities are trying to demonstrate how seriously they treat criminals. The calf would represent the murderer, and its neck is broken to show what would have been done if the murderer were to be caught. However, the Gemara in Sotah 46a says that we use an immature calf for Eglah Arufah because this calf has not yet had children, and likewise, the murder victim was prevented from doing Mitzvot. It would seem from this that the calf is supposed to represent the victim. On the other hand, the Gemara in Sanhedrin 52b which discusses the Halachot of an Eglah Arufah compares the calf to murderers, who, like an Eglah Arufah, should be killed at the neck by a sword. Therefore, says Rav Hirsch, the Eglah Arufah is meant to show the murderer what he has really done. Not only has he curtailed his victim’s life and robbed him of good deeds, he has also ruined his own life. Anything that he does for the remainder of his life will be fruitless. After קין murders his brother, Hashem tells him, "כי תעבד את האדמה לא תוסף תת כוחה נע ונד תהיה בארץ", “When you shall work the land, it will no longer yield its strength, and you will be a wanderer in the land.” If the בית דין does not exact punishment toward the murderer, he will still be punished by Hashem.
This is yet another affirmation of Hashem’sהשגחה פרטית on our lives. We know that even if justice cannot be carried out by people, Hashem, the ultimate proponent of
צדק, will ultimately carry out what is just.