In this week’s Parashah, the Torah elaborates on the Arei Miklat, cities of refuge for someone who has murdered inadvertently to flee to. In these cities of refuge, these accidental killers are protected and provided for. These Arei Miklat not only serve as an escape for the accidental killer, they also serve as an example of the Torah’s philosophy that it is the community, not just the persons involved, who are responsible for an end to the cycle of bloodshed. To bolster this point, the Mishnah (Makkot 11a) comments that to prevent the killers from praying for the Kohein Gadol’s death, which gives them freedom, the Kohein Gadol’s mother would provide them with food and clothing. While the primary concern of those women was the protection of their sons, their participation in caring for those captives exemplifies the communal responsibility to stop cycles of violence. Not only does the Torah provide a sanctuary for these people, but it creates a way in which they are clothed and fed so as to prevent further harm or murder because of hunger or desperation of a refugee. In this Mishnah, clothing and feeding the killers plays a role beyond sustenance. It signals that, though exiled, these killers have not been forgotten by mainstream society and are still remembered and cared for by the highest orders of society.
When we look more deeply at the concept of manslaughter and the fact that the Torah divides the blame among the community, and not just on the individuals involved, the question arises of how the society as a whole is responsible for the murder. This responsibility is not just for manslaughter, but many other actions of the individuals in our community as well. Overall, the concept of Arei Miklat, which at the surface seems to be fairly simple, opens a plethora of questions about our communal and ethical responsibilities as Jews to care for our neighbors.
In this week’s Parashah, what seems to be a simple Mitzvah to create the Arei Miklat is infinitely more complicated. It teaches us that we need tolerance, responsibility, and compassion in our dealings with our fellow Jews, as well as our other neighbors. We need to create an atmosphere that can educate them about the dangers of intolerance that has been exhibited. If we do not do so, we lose the spirit of the Torah’s commandment to create Arei Miklat, to create a community that we, as a people, can be proud of, in which tolerance and compassion is embedded in its every fiber.