Safety in the Torah


“Three cities you should separate for yourself, within your land which G-d your Lord has given you to possess. You should prepare for yourself the road, and divide your borders which G-d your Lord gives you to inherit into three parts, they will be for every murderer to escape to. This is the rule of the murderer who shall escape there and live. He who smites his neighbor without knowing, He did not hate him yesterday or the day before. He came upon his friend in order to cut wood, he pushed his hand to chop the wood with the axe and the head came off and found his friend and he died, he should flee to one of these cities and live. Lest the blood avenger chase the murderer and since his heart is heated he will catch him, since the road is long and he will murder him, he (the blood avenger) does not incur the death penalty, since he did not hate him yesterday or the day before. Therefore I command you saying, separate for yourself three cities. If G-d enlarges your boarders…. You should add for yourself another three cities on top of these three. And clean blood will not be spilled within your land which G-d your Lord gives you to settle, lest there be blood upon you.” (Devarim 19 2-10) “He who smites a man shall surely die. If it was unforeseen and G-d brought it to his hand, I will set for you a place to which he may escape.” (Shemot 21 12- 13)

In the above verses and others on this topic we see compassion for the person who killed by mistake. At the same time we also see understanding for the relative of the deceased. Since if the relative in his fury went and murdered this person outside of the city of refuge he is not held responsible

The compassion given to the person who unintentionally killed another is clearly seen in the Torah and in the exposition of this subject by our rabbis of blessed memory. Three cities are to be conveniently located in Israel, three more across the Jordan river, and other unofficial places around the country must be set aside for these people to run to.

The verse says “You should prepare for yourself the path” (Devarim 19 3). This means that roads must lead directly to the cities of refuge, the roads must be free of pot-holes, they must be straight and flat without pits or cliffs (so that the avengers) and there must be signs clearly posted stating “refuge”.There are to be set on the road two rabbis whose job it is to speak to the avenger and convince him not to smite the mistaken killer. They must tell him that the man killed by mistake, that he had no intention, and that he should not be treated like a murderer.

Additionally, the cities themselves must be safe. There is no disagreement amongst rabbis that ropes and traps may not be set in the cities, so that the avenger can not have any opportunity to take revenge. There is even an opinion that ropes and traps may not be sold in the city. The cities themselves must be inhabitable: with water and lodging for those who killed by mistake; and they must not be too big or too small, but should be mid-sized. As an introduction to teaching about the cities of refuge Rav Hama son of Hanina used to quote the verse “G-d is good and straight, therefore he directs sinners on the path” and would then say; “If he directs sinners, how much more so the righteous”. “The `righteous’ being the one who killed by mistake.” All this shows compassion for he who killed by mistake.

Understanding for the blood avenger is a concept which has no real equivalent in modern systems of legislation. The only similarity is pleading temporary insanity or the lower charge of manslaughter. Instead, understanding is found in that his fury is considered natural and uncontrollable. safety for the killer is therefore given to the community. From what has been discussed we see true humanistic ideas which modern society has not yet incorporated.