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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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אלה מסעי בני ישראל

These are the journeys of Bnei Yisrael. (33:1)

On a recent trip to Eretz Yisrael, I struck up a conversation with a fellow traveler. He told me that, since it was his first overseas trip, he was planning to savor every moment. He looked forward to the eleven-hour flight as another leg on what was supposed to be a momentous trip. He was so excited that he was keeping track of every moment – from the taxi that picked him up at home until his eventual return in ten days. I felt this was an interesting perspective on travel, which, for most people, is something they must endure…

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אלה מסעי בני ישראל

These are the journeys of Bnei Yisrael. (33:1)

The adage, “Life is a trip,” has greater meaning than one might think. Each of us travels on the journey called life, and, as occurs in many instances, not all travelers have the same experience. One can travel to a wonderful, beautiful vacation spot and still have a miserable experience. The other can go to a stark, cold, uninviting place and still have a great time. Different people have varied experiences as they go through life. For some, the trip is long and quite enjoyable; for others, it might be too short, and not much to write home about. Once,…

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ויכתב משה את מוציאהם למסעיהם על פי ד' ואלה מסעיהם למוצאיהם

Moshe wrote their goings forth according to their journeys at the bidding of Hashem, and these were their journeys according to their goings forth. (33:2)

The pasuk relates that Moshe Rabbeinu wrote motza’eihem l’maseihem, “their goings forth according to their journeys.” This idea is repeated at the end of the pasuk – only this time the order is reversed, with their journeys preceding their goings forth. Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, explains that the change in the wording is significant and purposeful. The beginning of the pasuk presents Hashem’s view of their travels. The pasuk closes with the nation’s view of their forty-year sojourn. When Hashem had them break camp, it was always for the purpose of reaching a new goal, a fresh plateau, for…

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וישמע הכנעני מלך ערד... בבא בני ישראל

The Canaanite King of Arad heard… of the approach of Bnei Yisrael. (33:40)

Rashi teaches that the king of Arad heard of the passing of Aharon HaKohen, thereby signaling the end of the protective barrier of Ananei HaKavod, the Pillars of Cloud. They felt that it was a message that the Jewish People were now vulnerable to attack. Apparently, when the king of Arad attacked, the Jewish People had no idea that it was linked to the passing of Aharon HaKohen. Indeed, they attributed Aharon’s death to his participation in the sin of Mei Merivah, the waters of strife, when the stone was hit instead of being spoken to. The attack from Arad…

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והערים אשר תתנו שש ערי מקלט תהיינה לכם

As to the cities that you shall designate, there shall be six cities of refuge for you. (35:13)

Moshe Rabbeinu designated three cities on Eivar haYardein, the eastern bank of the Jordan River, as Arei Miklat, Cities of Refuge.  The other three cities in Eretz Yisrael proper were to be designated by Yehoshua once the nation had conquered and divided the land. Clearly, the numbers appear disproportionate, given the fact that only two and one-half tribes made their homes on the eastern bank, while the other nine and one-half tribes resided in Eretz Yisrael. Rashi explains that, sadly, murder was more prevalent on the eastern bank. While this applies to premeditated murder, Ramban explains that the preponderance of…

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כי בעיר מקלטו ישב עד מות הכהן הגדול

For he must dwell in his city of refuge until the death of the Kohen Gadol. (35:28)

Rashi explains that the Kohen Gadol’s passing is connected to the unintentional murderer’s freedom, because as the generation’s primary spiritual leader, he should have prayed that accidental fatalities not occur during his watch. Chazal teach that the mothers of the Kohanim Gedolim would bring food to the unintentional murderers as their way of petitioning them not to pray for the premature death of their son. Why was it the Kohen Gadol’s mother who brought food to the inmates? Why not the Kohen Gadol himself? After all, it was his life that was on the block. In his commentary to the…

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