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(Torah Portion Massai) What Food Can Do

The Torah states that if one killed another person unintentionally, i.e. while descending a ladder, a rung broke loose and he fell upon a person and killed him, the one who killed must flee to one of forty-eight cities of refuge which were scattered throughout the Land of Israel and in the parts of Transjordan acquired by the Jews.

The one who killed must always remain in the city of refuge. He is only released at the death of the Kohain Godol – High Priest.

The Rashbam explains that since the Kohain Godol was the head of the Jewish People, his death brought clemency to all those sentenced to the city of refuge.

The Talmud tells us that the mother of the Kohain Godol would go to the cities of refuge to feed and clothe the unintentional killers so that they should not pray that her son should die to expedite their release.

The question is, who is kidding who? Why would the food the mother of the Kohain Godol gave to the killers change their desire to be freed from the city of refuge to rejoin their family? Wouldn’t they pray for his demise even though they are fed?

Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin o.b.m. explains that of course those condemned to the city of refuge would pray for the Kohain Godol to die whether they were fed by the mother of the Kohain Godol or not. The only difference is that a prayer of one who is hungry and in a famished state is much more intense and potent than a prayer recited by someone who is full. This is what the Kohain Godol’s mother accomplished.

Interestingly, the Halacha – law indicates that one should not eat before reciting the morning prayers. Perhaps, it is so that our prayers should be recited while we are hungry, so that our prayers will be potent and summon G-d’s compassionate and swift response to our request.

My son in law, Reuven, shared with me another insight to the benefit of the mother of the Kohain Godol feeding those in the cities of refuge. When one is the recipient of someone’s kindness, he automatically has a sense of gratitude towards the giver. Out of their sense of appreciation to the mother of the Kohain Godol for graciously feeding and clothing them, their prayers for her son’s demise would not be as intense and he would thus be spared.

G-d commanded that three cities of refuge should be set up in Transjordan and three cities of refuge should be provided for in the land of Israel. (There were 42 additional cities of the Levites that also served as cities of refuge.)

The Talmud asks: If no more than three cites of refuge were needed for nine an a half tribes living in of the Land of Israel, why did the two and a half tribes living in Transjordan require the same number of cities of refuge? The Talmud answers that murder was more prevalent in Transjordan.

Commentators wonder: If these cities provide refuge only for people who kill accidently, how could these unintentional murders which are totally unpredictable be more prevalent?

They explain: In a society that regards human life with contempt, where life is cheap and murder is a common occurrence, even decent people end up with a callous attitude towards life, making them careless and less vigilant in preventing fatal accidents.

Therefore in Transjordan where intentional murder was prevalent, it translated into an increase in accidental murders as well; hence, there was a need for more cities of refuge.

It is quite sad that we are witnessing today an unprecedented spike in brutal and cold blooded murders here and around the world. Just recently, Leiby Kletzky, a young eight year old, was kidnapped and viciously murdered and dismembered by one of our own.

What is our course of action to help prevent such horrible tragedies from occurring?

I would like to share with you a touching, valuable and amazingly noble statement issued by Leiby’s parents after getting up from the traditional Shiva – mourning period.

“We thank G-d for the nearly nine beautiful years that He entrusted us with Leiby’s pure soul. We are certain that Leiby is now looking down from heaven and blessing us all.

We would like to once again thank all our friends and neighbors; all the selfless volunteers from near and far; local, city, state, and federal agencies; and all our fellow New Yorkers and beyond who assisted us physically, emotionally, and spiritually - as well as all of G-d’s children around the world who held our
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