Cities of Refuge

Makkot (2:4) | Yisrael Bankier | 2 months ago

Cities of Refuge

The second perek of Makkot deals with the accidental murderer (see 4(26) for an introduction to the topic). We learnt that in the event where one kills another be'shogeg (accidently) they go to one of the arei miklat (cities of refuge) where they must stay until the death of the kohen gadol. In that city they are safe. If however, they step outside the city, they are no longer protected and the go'el ha'dam – a close relative of the victim – would not be liable if he killed the murderer. The Mishnah (2:4) explains that six arei miklat were designated – three inside Israel and three Transjordan.1

The Gemara (9b) questions the distribution of cities given that Transjordan was both smaller in land and population. Abaye answers that the area of Gilad located there, had a higher occurrence of murders.2

The Gur Aryeh however asks that arei miklat only offered protecting for murders that occurred by accident. The fact that there was a high frequency of deliberate murderers should have no bearing on the demands of the arei miklat in that area.

The Ramban suggests that many of the murderers would have planned their crime to appear like an accident. Since it would be difficult to discern the genuine accidents, there was a greater demand for the arei miklat.3

The Gur Aryeh however is unsatisfied with the answer. He explains that if the arei miklat provided a cover for the crime, then it would be preferable to reduce the number in the area rather than increase them.

The Gur Aryeh then cites his brother R' Sinai who cites the Gemara (10b) regarding two individuals that killed, one deliberately and one accidently, neither of which were witnessed. Hashem orchestrates it such that both these individuals share the same lodging and the accidental murderer is then witnessed falling from a ladder and killing the deliberate murderer seated below. R' Sinai suggests that there may be many cases of unwitnessed accidental murders. According to this Gemara, for these individuals to end up in the arei miklat there would need to be an availability of deliberate murderers for similarly designed scenarios. Given the number of murderers in the Gilad, more accidental murderers could end up in the arei miklat.

The Gur Aryeh instead however suggests that the fact that the accidental murderer receives this punishment means that he should have taken more care to prevent injury to another. In a region where there is a high frequency of murders, life is cheapened. It would impact even those righteous people, such that less care will be take in dangerous situations. Furthermore, as more people are raised and educated for murder, more fatal accidents are likely to occur.

The Tifferet Yisrael however approaches the issue from a completely different angle. The Tifferet Yisrael returns to the Gemara that comments that the people of Gilad were fiery and would set ambushes to kill people. Returning to the fact that the arei miklat afforded refuge for the accidental murderer from the go'el adam, the Tifferet Yisrael explains that in the event of an accidental murder, there was a greater likelihood in Gilad that the family would seek revenge. In other words, it is not that in the region of Gilad that the occurrence of such case would be increased; accidents are just that – accidents. Instead, given the nature of the people there, the need and urgency to protect the accidental murderer is far greater.


1 This is aside from the forty-two Levite cities that also provided refuge for the murderer.

2 Rashi (Bamidbar 35:13) cites this explanation.

3 The Maharsha answers in a similar manner that initially even deliberate murderer run to the arei miklat for protection until trial. The Tifferet Yisrael however finds this difficult as it appears that we are building infrastructure to support deliberate murders.

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