Towards the end of Parshat Masei, the Torah presents us with the Mitzva of Arei Miklat, to set aside 6 cities to which a Maceh Nefesh Beshogeg can run to in order to seek refuge from a Goel Hadam, a relative of the deceased who is by Halacha allowed to kill the Maceh Nefesh Beshogeg. The Maceh Nefesh Beshogeg is not safe to go until the Kohen Gadol dies. The Arei Miklat were not simply cities of refuge killers, but also Arei Leviim, cities of the Leviim. This raises a number of questions: Is an Ir Miklat a positive or a negative thing? Why is a Maceh Nefesh Beshogeg forced to seek refuge in an Ir Miklat if he only killed by accident? And why are Arei Miklat also Arei Leviim?
Meforshim are split as to whether Ir Miklat is a positive or negative thing. There is logic supporting both sides. It seems positive at first glance, as a place where a chased man can go to escape a Goel Hadam, but a closer look reveals that it is really more of a punishment than a benefit. As the Rambam writes in his Sefer Hamitzvot, “Anyone who kills by accident is exiled from the state that he killed in to an Ir Miklat, and it is a positive commandment to exile him, like it says, ‘And he shall dwell there until the death of the Kohen Gadol.’” According to the Lashon of the Rambam it seems to be a punishment of exile, as he uses the word “Golah,” exile. A Maceh Nefesh Beshogeg is forced to dwell in the Ir Miklat for an undisclosed amount of time, under a sort of “house arrest,” unable to live the city, and if he does, he can be killed. Now, why is someone who killed only by accident confined to the Arei Miklat? According to the Rambam in the Moreh Nevuchim (Perek 40), it is not for the Maceh Nefesh Beshogeg, rather for the Goel Hadam to have a chance to calm down before he kills the Maceh Nefesh Beshogeg. Rabbi Gidon Rothstein (www.rjconline.org) compares the concept of Arei Miklat to the Witness Protection Program. He writes, “We make the murderer live in a city of refuge as a way of protecting him, not because his act incurred any liability on his part.”
I would like to suggest an alternate answer. In the Mesilat Yesharim, the Ramchal goes through literally a Mesilat Yesharim, a path of the just and righteous. The very first step is Zehirut. As the Ramchal writes: הנה עניו הזהירות הוא שיהיה אדם נזהר במעשיו ועניניו...והנה זה דבר שהכל יחייבוהו ודאי (Mesilat Yesharim Chapter 2) and he even uses an example of a רוצח in Perek Gimel talking about Zehirut. Zehirut is the stepping-stone to perfection and is the cornerstone of a Jew. An Ir Miklat seems like a punishment, but it is really a punishment for a lack of Zehirut on the part of the Makeh Nefesh Bishgaga.
With this we can see the answer to the third question. The Leviim live in the Arei Miklat in order to be role models for the Makeh Nefesh Bishgaga. The Ir Miklat is really neither a sanctuary nor a jail; rather it is a rehabilitation facility. Hashem’s purpose in making the Arei Miklat is for people who failed to exercise an appropriate, prudent, level of Zehirut to learn how to be Zehirim and to take control of their actions.
We can apply this message during this time of year. This year, this Parsha falls out during Rosh Chodesh Av. In this period leading up to Tisha Baav, it is important for us to try to exercise a certain level of Zehirut in our actions. We have to look for role models, like the Leviim in the Arei Miklat and try to emulate our Zehirut and awareness of what we are doing wrong and how we can fix it. A lack of Zehirut is what destroyed the Bait Hamikdash 2000 years ago, and now, strengthening our level of Zehirut is what will help rebuild it.
I would like to thank Steven Goldsmith for helping me build this Devar Torah during the summer of 5760.