There is a fascinating law in this week’s portion. The Torah tells us that one who kills accidentally must be banished to a city of refuge. The Torah refers to an accident that is tinged with a bit of negligence, not a total mishap or a death tainted with intent. The cities of refuge were the home of the Levites, whose life’s mission was service to others. Thus a lesson in care and concern during the murderer’s stay would elevate of his soul.
The Torah tells us very unique terms of release. The killer was to stay in the city of refuge until the Kohein Gadol (High Priest) died. Of course, the scene among his Levite neighbors, who were the protégés of the Kohein Gadol mourning the loss of their beloved leader, would put the murderer’s joy of freedom in perspective. It would be almost impossible to be exuberant with his own release amongst the thousands of residents mourning their leader – and that would be another lesson, before his new life in society.
But the Torah identifies the Kohein Gadol, whose death results in the killer’s release, in a strange way. “He (the killer) shall remain (in the city of refuge) until the passing of the Kohein Gadol who he anointed”(Numbers 35:25). The Talmud in Makos is baffled by the words who he anointed. It somewhat implies that the killer had to do with the Kohein’s anointing – and that just cannot be. After all wasn’t the Kohein anointed way before the accident occurred?
The Talmud answers. True. This verse implies that if, after the time of the accident but before its judicial resolution, a new Kohein Gadol is anointed, then the killer only is released after the new Kohein’s death. The Talmud asks why? This new Kohein Gadol was not around during the accident? True he was appointed before the verdict, but he was appointed after the death occurred. Why is he somehow involved the verdict of the accused? Why is his death the redeeming factor for the accused? Why is he punished? The Talmud answers that if there was a trial during the new Kohein’s tenure, he should have prayed for the welfare of the accused. He should have interceded and prayed in order to mitigate a verdict of exile. Therefore, if the verdict came in his tenure, the man is released with his death.
It is quite difficult to understand. How is an incoming Kohein Gadol, during the most exciting and prestigious period of his career expected to worry about the verdict of a man, he has never heard of, who is accused of manslaughter.
Rabbi Chaim Kanievski, of B’nei Berak, Israel, the son of the Steipler Gaon of blessed memory, is known for his amazing breadth of Torah Knowledge which is only paralleled by his great diligence in Torah study. With the passing of his father more than a decade ago, people from all walks of life line up in front of his home seeking answers to complex Torah and personal questions.
But his greatness and wisdom were known to hundreds in the yeshiva world for many years.
Many years ago, as a student in the Ponovez Yeshiva, I heard an amazing story. A young man came to Reb Chaim with a long list of questions. Reb Chaim seemed a bit preoccupied but the visitor insisted in asking the questions, to which Reb Chaim responded, one by one.
Suddenly Reb Chaim began tidying himself up and put on a recently pressed kapote and new hat, and asked the young man’s indulgence. He had to go somewhere but he allowed the visitor to accompany him. The younger man did, peppering him with questions the entire way.
They walked a few blocks until they reached a wedding hall. Upon entering, Reb Chaim embraced the groom with a warm hug and kiss and apologized for the delay. Reb Chaim sat himself among the prestigious Rabbonim who graced the dais as they prepared the marriage documents. The persistent questioner was almost oblivious to the scene and continued to ask as more questions and eliciting responses. Reb Chaim tried to juggle the needs of the groom while trying to accommodate the visitor who had besieged him with problems.
But the persistent questioner received the shock of his life when, as the music began, heralding the march to the badekin, where the groom, flanked by his father and father-in-law, met the bride and covered her face with the veil. The groom rose from his seat and immediately his future father-in-law took hold of his arm. The groom’s father took hold of the other arm. But before he did so, the groom’s father turned around and apologized to the stranger who he had been talking to for the last hour or so. He said that would be unable to help him until after the ceremony. And then Rabbi Kanievski nodded Mazel Tov to the hundreds of well-wishers and began the procession to his own son’s wedding!
The Torah tells us that the Kohein Gadol-elect, waiting to be anointed to the most spiritual position in Judaism has a responsibility to worry about the welfare of the common man – even those accused of manslaughter. He should worry about his welfare and the verdict on his life. There is no greater inauguration to the responsibilities of priesthood than the concern for every single one of us.
My apologies to those of you who did not get Drasha (Parsha Parables) for Parshas Pinchas. I received many e-mail messages from eager anticipators who never received it. They could not have. I did not send it!
Yasher Koach to the hundreds of responders to my request for a back of the new book quote. I received letters fron South Africa to Singapore, Taiwan to Tel Aviv and even exotic places such as Woodmere! (Kudos to Rabbi Friedman!)
A great big Yasher Koach to Mayer Winter, who publishes Bain Gavra L’Gavra, an amazing 40 plus page compendium of internet Torah! I will try not to miss my part in it!
Rabbi Mordecai Kamenetzky
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Associate Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.