Parashat Shofetim explains the pragmatic way a person is supposed to conduct his life. Yet there is a very strange commandment listed after we are told to establish Arei Miklat, cities where those guilty of manslaughter can find refuge. The Torah states, “Tachin Lecha HaDerech… VeHayah Lanus Shamah Kol Rotzei’ach,” “Prepare for yourself the way... and it shall be for any murderer to flee there” (Devarim 19:3). The Gemara (Makot 10b) explains that there were signs at each crossroad that pointed the felons in the direction of the city. Why does the Torah emphasize that we have signs pointing to the Arei Miklat, places of exile, but we do not have signs pointing to Yerushalayim for the people traveling there on the Shalosh Regalim? Furthermore, Ritva (ad loc.) writes that ostracizing the murderer is an actual punishment. He must live away from society in constant fear of the Go’eil HaDam, avenger of the deceased. Why are we guiding a person to his punishment?
Rav Kamenetsky answers that the answer becomes clear by looking at Rav Meir Shapiro, the founder of Yeshivah Chachmei Lublin. Unlike other Yeshivot, this Yeshivah provided food to the students so that they did not have to entreat others. Rav Meir Shapiro himelf implored others to finance the school. On one of his trips, Rav Shapiro was asked the question, “If Hashem wanted your Yeshiva to flourish, why didn’t He arrange that you just meet one benefactor who would undertake the entire project?” Rav Shapiro smiled and answered, “Had one man given me a check, I would never be talking to you about Judaism, about your heritage, your past, and your future.” Rav Shapiro was saying that by his traveling and asking for money from people he allowed more people to be involved in his project. If one person was to give a large sum of money, there would be no excitement, no buzz. People would feel disconnected from the project. On the other hand, if many people were to play an active role, then they all feel like a part of the Yeshivah.
This story of Rav Meir Shapiro can help us explain why we are putting up signs guiding the murderer. Imagine that a stranger approaches a local resident and says, “I mistakenly killed someone. Where is the Ir Miklat?” This would create a tremendously negative atmosphere in the city. Suddenly, people would realize that there are murderers loose. The Ponevezher Rav said that when the public is informed, they, too, will start sinning. The bad deeds will spread like wild fire. Therefore, we must opt for the alternative by having the sinner guided to an Ir Miklat with the signs.
Alternatively, when someone comes knocking on your door asking for directions to Yerushalayim, Rav Kamenetsky writes that a positive atmosphere is generated. Just as Rav Shapiro involved people by asking for money, that individual is involving people by asking for directions. This creates a scene where even more people want to go to Yerushalayim, and increases our enthusiasm for Yerushalayim.
In our life, too, we can create a positive atmosphere. Even one kind word can leave an impact on an individual. Just as a person who sins creates a negative atmosphere which spreads rapidly, a positive atmosphere can also spread rapidly. When we are apathetic, everyone else responds in turn. However, if we show enthusiasm, everyone else becomes enthusiastic as well.