"Do not take a ransom . . . And you will not pollute the land . . .
rather you shall execute him."(35:33,34)
The Sifri sees in the words "lo sachnifu" es ha'aretz, a prohibition against
flattery, for the word "chanifa" means "flattery". The Ramban attempts to
show the connection between flattery and the prohibition against condoning
murder which is the simple interpretation of the verse. Accepting a bribe
from a murderer in exchange for his pardon is a form of flattery. We are
treating him as an upstanding citizen of society, although he is a wicked
Perhaps another parallel can be drawn between flattery and murder.Murder
destroys a person's physical reality. However, a person can be destroyed
emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually as well. Flattery gives one a
false sense of his reality. A person who is not in touch with who he really
is, is not considered to be alive. This is a false sense of existence.
Flattering a person, thereby being the catalyst to his losing touch with his
true reality, is akin to murdering him.
1. Ramban, 35:34
Respecting Human Life
"Then Moshe designated three cities." (Devarim, 4:41)
The Talmud teaches that the three cities of refuge on the east bank of the
Jordan River only became functional after the three on the west bank were
established. Although Moshe knew that the latter three would only be
established fourteen years after his passing, he insisted on establishing
the three on the east bank. The Talmud uses this as an example of Moshe's
alacrity in the performance of mitzvos.
Generally, alacrity in the performance of a mitzva leads to the mitzva being
accomplished sooner. However, in Moshe's case,since the cities offered no
refuge until after they all were completed, what was there to be gained by
The cities of refuge served a dual purpose. One function was as a safe haven
for the perpetrator of an accidental murder, while the second was to create
a higher degree of awareness amongst Bnei Yisroel concerning the sanctity of
human life. The mere presence of the city sent a message to everyone to be
more cautious with their actions. Although the first function did not take
effect until after the conquest of Eretz Yisroel, Moshe was able to
immediately set the second function into motion.
1. Makkos, 10a
Murder Desensitizes Us
"You must designate for yourselves cities of refuge." (35:11)
Hashem commanded Moshe to designate six cities of refuge. Three of the
cities were located on the east bank of the Jordan River, and three were on
the west bank. The Talmud questions this designation, for only
two-and-a-half tribes were located on the east bank, while the remaining
nine-and-a-half tribes were located on the west bank. Our Sages explain that
the disproportionate allocation was due to the high incidence of murder
which took place on the east bank of the Jordan. The Baalei HaTosfos
question this explanation. These cities offered refuge only to someone who
had killed inadvertently. Therefore, the high incidence of murder, which is
a premeditated act, should not be a determining factor in the location of
the cities of refuge. The Baalei HaTosfos answer the question by citing the
following passage from the Talmud: When a person murders without being
detected, Hashem sees to it that he is punished. Hashem orchestrates a
scenario whereby the murderer is killed accidentally. Therefore, a higher
incidence of murder will result in a higher incidence of inadvertent killing.
The Talmud relates that the individual responsible for killing the murderer,
is himself a person who had previously killed inadvertently. However, since
the first killing went undetected, he did not feel the necessity to run to a
city of refuge. Therefore, Hashem created a similar situation which was
detected, thus forcing him to flee to a city of refuge. If so, it would seem
that the high incidence of murder has no impact on the high incidence of
inadvertent killing, for the murderer who was killed accidentally, needs to
be killed by someone who has unintentionally killed in the past. The number
of inadvertent murderer would appear to be independent of the number of
murderers. Thus, the question still remains.
The Rambam makes a distinction between an -"oness" and a "shogaig". An
"oness" is a person who kills someone without the slightest degree of
negligence. Such a person is absolved of all responsibility, and is not
required to flee to a city of refuge. In the case of a "shogaig", there is a
certain degree of negligence, and it is under these circumstances that the
perpetrator must flee to a city of refuge.
The Talmud is teaching us that in an area where there is a high incidence of
murder, the populace becomes desensitized to the sanctity of life.
Therefore, in these areas there is a higher propensity for carelessness
involving potentially life-threatening acts. The reason why there was a
greater need for the cities of refuge on the east bank of the Jordan was
that the higher incidence of murder reflected a lack of sensitivity to the
sanctity of life and therefore resulted in a higher incidence of killings
due to negligence.