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ולארץ לא יכפר לדם אשר שפך בה כי אם בדם שפכו

The land will not have atonement for the blood that was spilled in it, except through the blood of the one who spilled it. (35:33)

Why does the land require atonement?  Did it sin in any way concerning the murder?  Is it guilty of some form of murder?  Horav Zaidel Epstein, zl, explains that the strictures of the complaint against the land is in its passive response to the murder.  It acted with indifference, with cool detachment, as if the murder were nothing at all.  The land should have cried out and made demands.  Who ever heard of the land expressing its emotion with regard to a wanton act of murder?  The Mashgiach refers us to Hashem’s curse of Kayin’s act of murdering his brother. …

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והקריתם לכם ערים ערי מקלט ... ונס שמה רצח מכה נפש בשגגה

You shall designate cities for yourselves… and a murderer shall flee there – one who takes a life unintentionally. (35:11)

The Arei Miklat, Cities of Refuge, served as home to two groups of Jews: Shevet Levi, the spiritual exemplars of our nation; and the rotzeach b’shogeg, one who committed unintentional murder.  The relationship between these two groups seems to be a bit of a stretch.  They are quite the opposite of one another.  The Bostoner Rebbe, zl, was one of the founders of the baal teshuvah movement in this country.  The Rebbe was called to address the annual Agudath Israel convention. He used his time at the podium as an opportunity to exhort observant Jews to reach out to their…

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ונס שמה רצח מכה נפש בשגגה

And a murderer shall flee the one who takes a life unintentionally. (35:11)

The word rotze’ach, murderer, followed by makeh nefesh, one who takes a life, is seemingly redundant. Why does the Torah repeat itself? Horav Chaim Toito, Shlita, employs the following story as a means for distinguishing between the two terms. A devout, G-d-fearing Jew lived in a small village not far from Sanz. He earned a living by using his house as an inn and restaurant. It was a lucrative business. One day, a poor man dressed in tattered clothes appeared at his inn. Being a kind-hearted man, the innkeeper gave this man a decent, nourishing meal, after which he took…

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אלה מסעי בני ישראל ... ויכתב משה את מוצאיהם למסעיהם על פי ד'

These are the journeys of Bnei Yisrael… Moshe wrote their goings forth according to their journeys at the bidding of Hashem. (33:1,2)

The journeys of Klal Yisrael from the time they left Egypt until their arrival in the Holy Land are significant, since the Torah underscores them. The Torah only contains events that have importance for posterity. Moshe recorded these journeys by the word of Hashem, because (according to Rambam), in this way, the nation would remember the miraculous events which occurred in the wilderness for all time. Veritably, some of these miracles were clearly evident, such as the Clouds of Glory and the manna. As we all know only too well, however, memory fades, and doubters and skeptics are likely to…

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ויאמר בני גד ובני ראובן אל משה... עבדיך יעשו כאשר אדני מצוה ... עבדיך יעברו כל חלוץ צבא לפני ד' למלחמה כאשר אדני דבר

Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven said to Moshe… Your servants shall do as my lord commands… And your servants shall cross over, every armed person of the legion, before Hashem, to do battle, as my lord speaks. (32:25,27)

Moshe Rabbeinu exhorted Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven to assume their share of the battle of conquering Eretz Yisrael, concluding, “V’nichb’shah ha’aretz lifnei Hashem, v’achar tashuvu, “And the Land; shall be conquered before Hashem, and then you shall return” (ibid 32:22).  Chazal (Midrash) comment that Moshe’s statement, V’achar tashuvu, “And then you shall return,” was fulfilled b’m’lo muvan ha’milah, to the word. Every member of Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven returned home from the war and apportioning of the Land, a total of fourteen years.  Not a single one died, not even of natural causes! Tzaddik gozeir v’Hakadosh Boruch Hu…

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נקום נקמת בני ישראל מאת המדינים אחר תאסף אל עמיך

Take vengeance for Bnei Yisrael against the Midyanim; afterward you will be gathered unto your people. (31: 2)

Hashem informed Moshe Rabbeinu that he would leave this world once Klal Yisrael destroyed Midyan. Then Klal Yisrael would be avenged. Once Klal Yisrael exacted vengeance, Moshe’s “work” (so to speak) would be complete. Although Moshe was acutely aware that once he completed this mitzvah he would die, he executed the vengeance with amazing alacrity. A mitzvah is a mitzvah, even if it meant that it would hasten his own demise. The Torah writes that the Jewish People waged war with Midyan, and they succeeded in killing all males. Among them was Bilaam ben Be’or, the pagan prophet who was…

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זאת הארץ אשר תפל לכם בנחלה ארץ כנען לגבלתיה

This is the land that shall fall to you as an inheritance, the land of Canaan according to its borders. (34:2)

Rashi explains the term, tipol lachem, “shall fall to you.” Since the land had been apportioned by lottery, its division was expressed in terms of “falling.” Alternatively, he quotes the Midrash that explains “falling” as a reference to Hashem causing the ministering angels of the seven nations, who at that time inhabited the land of Canaan, to “fall” from the Heavens. They were bound up before Moshe Rabbeinu. Hashem said to Moshe, “Look, they no longer have koach, strength.” Hashem expects us to be mishtadel, endeavor, regardless of the fact that it is Hashem Who prepares the path of success….

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ונס שמה רצח מכה נפש בשגגה

And a murderer shall flee there – one who takes a life unintentionally. (35:11)

Rabbeinu Bachya asks a question that only a Rishon could ask. He wonders about the disparity in punishment between the rotzeiach b’shogeg, inadvertent murderer, and the rotzeiach b’meizid,  premeditated murderer. After all is said and done, they are both murderers. If the premeditated murderer would escape to the ir miklat, city of refuge, he would be immediately yanked out. Why is he different than his inadvertent counterpart? At the end of the day, two victims lay in the morgue. They are both deceased. Disparate dinim, laws, apply to each of the murderers. Why is this? Obviously, this question is rhetorical….

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ואת הערים אשר תתנו ללוים את שש ערי המקלט אשר תתנו לנס שמה הרצח

The cities that you shall give to the Leviim: the six cities that you shall provide for a murderer to flee there. (35:6)

Forty-eight cities were set aside for the Leviim. Of these, six cities were specifically for the rotzeach b’shogeg, unintentional murderer. One wonders why men of such spiritual distinction were relegated to live with individuals who had blood on their hands. True, the murders that they committed were unintentional, but there are various levels of lack of intent, some of which border on carelessness. Only Hashem knows the truth. The Leviim led very spiritual lives. Obviously, their families had a different moral and spiritual compass than that which guided the rest of the nation. Is it fair that these fine, upstanding…

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ונכבשה הארץ לפני ד' ואחר תשבו והייתם נקים מד' ומישראל

And the Land shall be conquered before Hashem, and then you shall return – then you shall be vindicated before Hashem and from Yisrael. (32:22)

“So what if people do not understand my lofty goals?”  “Since when must I explain myself to people?” “As long as I satisfy Hashem, is that not what is important?” It is statements such as these, with the attitude of arrogance that accompanies them, that get people into trouble. The end does not justify the means. One must act in a manner that does not incur public suspicion of impropriety. Everything we do must be above board, maintaining sufficient transparency to withstand the greatest scrutiny. There is a well-known Teshuvos Chasam Sofer (6: Likutim 59) in which the revered Rav…

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