Elul - A Refuge In Time

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)


Makom – Place. 1

Arei Miklat – Cities of Refuge. 2

The Kohen Gadol and the Manslayer. 4

Elul – A Refuge In Time. 6

Adam and Chava. 8

Kayin and Hevel 9

Yosef and His Brothers. 9

Moshe and the Egyptian. 10

In The Wilderness. 11

Exile In Megillat Ruth. 11

Babylonian Galut 12

Mashiach ben Yosef and the Bne Israel 12

City of Refuge = Torah. 13


In this study I would like to understand the month of Elul. My preliminary study indicates that this month is related to exile and that exile is the penalty for inadvertently killing someone. Why is exile the penalty for killing someone unintentionally? Additionally, I would like to understand how the cities of refuge pertain to those who do not have blood on their hands. I would also like to understand how the month of Elul, the sixth month, is related to the cities of refuge, that were intended to be the exilic home of the unintentional manslayer.


Makom – Place


The Hebrew word Makom - מקם is normally translated as place.


Makom is a word that we use rather lightly in the English speaking world. In the Hebrew world it is never taken or used lightly. You see, HaMakom (The Place) - המקם is one of HaShem’s names! By referring to HaShem as The Place we are saying that HaShem is not in the world; rather, the world is in HaShem. HaMakom asserts that HaShem is everywhere and everything: physical and spiritual, matter and energy. All of this makes up the oneness of HaShem. HaShem makes a place for the world. He provides a place for the world to exist.


Bereshit Rabbah 68:9 HaShem encompasses the world; the world does not encompass Him[1].


The Land of Israel is also HaMakom, the place on earth set aside by HaShem as the Holy Land.


The Torah calls Mt. Moriah, HaMakom:


Bereshit (Genesis) 22:4-5 Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place (HaMakom) afar off. And they came to the place (HaMakom) which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.


Bereshit (Genesis) 22:9 And they came to the place (HaMakom) which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.


Bereshit (Genesis) 22:14 And Abraham called the name of that place (Makom) Adonai-Yireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of HaShem it shall be seen.


The Midrash reiterates the significance of HaMakom:


Midrash Tehillim Psalm 90 R. Huna said in the name of R. Ammi: Why is the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, called “place?” Because He is the place of the world, as is said Behold, there is a place by Me. Abraham called Him “place,” as is said And Abraham called the name of that place Adonai-Yireh (Gen. 22:14). Jacob called Him “place,” as is said How full of awe is this place (Gen. 28:17). Moses called Him “place,” as is said Behold, there is a place by Me (Ex. 33:21).


Many of the items found in the Bet HaMikdash did not have fixed places. For example, the menorah had a position relative to the Holy Ark, specifically, southeast of the Ark, but it did not have an absolute place in the Temple. In contrast, the mizbeach, the altar, had an absolute place, and if it was not in that place, the obligation of performing the Temple service was not fulfilled. Why? Because, says the Rambam, the place of the altar is the place from which man himself was created!


We feel homesick when we have been away from our home (the place) for a protracted period of time. No matter how humble, we long for our place of origin. We long for our home, our place. Thus we learn that our soul longs to return to HaShem, it’s origin, it’s source. Homesickness was given to us as a mashal to help us understand that our soul longs to return to it’s home with HaShem.


Thus we can understand that makom, place, is very significant. It is a name of HaShem, it is where HaShem focuses His attention, it is a place we call home.


Exile is when we leave our makom, our place, and go to another place. It can never replace our place. The pain of exile is the pain of not having a place to be, because it is not our place.


Arei Miklat – Cities of Refuge


An Ir Miklat (refuge city - an absorption / integration city – a new mindset) represents the study of the Torah. Not only does the city absorb the manslayer, but the manslayer also absorbs the Ir Miklat! This is the meaning contained in the Hebrew word miklat.


A manslayer was directed to an Ir Miklat by a road sign that simply said miklat miklat - מקלט מקלט.


The gematria of miklat - מקלט is 179:

מ  - 40

ק – 100

ל – 30

ט – 9


Total = 179 time 2 equal 358


The gematria, therefore, of miklat miklat is 358. Mashiach also has a gematria of 358.


So we see that the road sign pointing to the city of refuge also contains a hint that points one toward Mashiach.


Makkoth 10b AND DIRECT ROADS WERE MADE LEADING FROM ONE TO THE OTHER. It is taught: R. Eliezer b. Jacob says that the words miklat miklat [asylum asylum] was inscribed at the parting of the ways so that the manslayer might notice and turn in that direction.


Th Gemara teaches us that the word miklat [asylum] was inscribed at the parting of the ways so that the manslayer might notice and turn in that direction.


As one stays continuously in the Ir Miklat, so, Joshua commanded us to study Torah continuously:


Yehoshua (Joshua) 1: 8 This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.


We shall examine this concept in greater detail, but, I am getting ahead of myself. Lets see what the Torah teaches about an Ir Miklat.


A person who murders intentionally after having been previously warned is liable to the death penalty. A person who kills unintentionally is exempt from the death penalty, but is punished with galut (exile).


Bear in mind, lest you believe that this sin of manslaughter does not apply to you, that every time our words hurt another, we are guilty of being a small manslayer. Thus, to a certain extent, we all need an Ir Miklat.


When it is proven that a person killed unintentionally, he is banished to one of the six cities of refuge (arei miklat) or one of the forty-two[2] Levitical cities,[3] to protect him from the vengeance of the slain man’s relatives. He must stay there and not leave the city or its city limits for any reason whatsoever until the death of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) who served at the time that he was sentenced to exile.


Bamidbar (Numbers) 35:6 And the cities which ye shall give unto the Levites, they shall be the six cities of refuge, which ye shall give for the manslayer to flee thither; and beside them ye shall give forty and two cities.


The above passage is where we find the first usage of miklat מקלט.


Miklat is used some twenty times in the Tanach[4] and is always used as a reference to the cities of refuge. The normal Hebrew word for refuge is not miklat.




In the Torah portion which speaks of the Arei Miklat, it mentions the Arei Miklat (gematria is 179) exactly ten time! These ten are beautifully divided into five and five. The Torah first talks about unintentional manslaughter and then mentions miklat five times.[5] Then the Torah speaks about intentional murder before returning to manslaughter. When the Torah returns to manslaughter it mentions miklat five additional times. This mirrors the arrangement of then Luchot are which we find engraved the ten commandments as two blocks of five commands[6] opposite five commands.[7]


The designated cities of refuge were named by Joshua after they entered eretz Israel:


Yehoshua (Joshua) 20:1 HaShem also spake unto Joshua, saying, 2 Speak to the children of Israel, saying, Appoint out for you cities of refuge, whereof I spake unto you by the hand of Moses: 3 That the slayer that killeth any person unawares and unwittingly may flee thither: and they shall be your refuge from the avenger of blood. 4 And when he that doth flee unto one of those cities shall stand at the entering of the gate of the city, and shall declare his cause in the ears of the elders of that city, they shall take him into the city unto them, and give him a place, that he may dwell among them. 5 And if the avenger of blood pursue after him, then they shall not deliver the slayer up into his hand; because he smote his neighbour unwittingly, and hated him not beforetime. 6 And he shall dwell in that city, until he stand before the congregation for judgment, and until the death of the high priest that shall be in those days: then shall the slayer return, and come unto his own city, and unto his own house, unto the city from whence he fled. 7 And they appointed Kedesh in Galilee in mount Naphtali, and Shechem in mount Ephraim, and Kirjath-arba, which is Hebron, in the mountain of Judah. 8 And on the other side Jordan by Jericho eastward, they assigned Bezer in the wilderness upon the plain out of the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead out of the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan out of the tribe of Manasseh.9 These were the cities appointed for all the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them, that whosoever killeth any person at unawares might flee thither, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, until he stood before the congregation.


Now because we know that HaShem always acts midda kneged midda (measure for measure), we understand that there is a direct correlation between the crime and the punishment. This begs a question: Why is galut, exile, the correction for one who kills inadvertently?


The midda kneged midda is like this: If a man causes another man to lose his makom, his place, in this world, the Torah mandates that this unintentional manslayer must lose his makom, his place, by going into galut. The manslayer must leave his home, community, job, and friends (his makom, his “place”) and flee to one the cities of refuge to remain in exile until the Kohen Gadol dies. Thus we see that exile is a great kindness from HaShem that enables us to correct that which we have blemished in this world.


HaShem lessened the discomfort of those who were exiled to the cities of refuge by sending them to cities where the Levites were also landless.


Devarim (Deuteronomy) 19:2-4 Three cities you shall set aside within the land that HaShem your G-d is giving you as an inheritance... and they shall be for all murderers to escape to. This is the murderer who shall flee there, and live: one who strikes his fellow unintentionally...


The person who kills unintentionally doesn’t have an appreciation of life. Therefore, his punishment is to go to the City of Refuge.


The Kohen Gadol and the Manslayer


Who lives in the Cities of Refuge? The Levites. What did the Levites do with their time? They worked in the Beit HaMikdash, they sang in the Beit HaMikdash, and they were the teachers of Torah. The person who killed unintentionally would now have the opportunity to get an appreciation of what one can do with life. Such an experience will forever change the person. Seeing a Levi who spends his evening, morning, and afternoon immersed in Torah and mitzvot will change his view of life.


The Torah is telling us that there is some connection between the sin of the unintentional manslayer and the Kohen Gadol, by linking the exile of the manslayer with the death of the Kohen Gadol. But what in the connection between the manslayer and the Kohen Gadol? To answer this, we will need a bit of background.


The Torah prohibits using stones touched by iron for the mizbeach, the altar, because iron, which is used to form weapons, is responsible for loss of human life. If even an unintentional murder takes place it indicates that the Beit HaMikdash is not fulfilling its role. The Kohen Gadol, the guardian of the Beit HaMikdash, is also at fault to a certain degree, and he too share in the punishment of manslayer. The Kohen Gadol should be beseeching HaShem for both the one who dies and the one who killed. Only the Kohen Gadol goes into the Holy of Holies – HaMakom – The Place. Only the Kohen Gadol can give the one who has lost his place – a place – in The Place.


When the Kohen Gadol entered the Holy of Holies on Yom HaKippurim, He represented the entire nation. Therefore we can see that every Jew is also part of a larger entity, the body of Mashiach:


Ephesians 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Mashiach also is the head of the Bne Israel, himself the savior of the body.


Yochanan (John) 15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.


So, if every one of the Bne Israel is a part of a larger entity (a body or a vine), then clearly the head (Mashiach – the Kohen Gadol) suffers when the part is broken (unintentionally killing). Additionally, it is the head (Kohen Gadol) which is in control of the body (Bne Israel). Thus we see that the manslayer and the Kohen Gadol are linked and that each is responsible for the other.


In fact, the Talmud indicates that it is the death of the Kohen Gadol which provides atonement for the manslayer.


Makkoth 11b It is the death of the [high] priest that procures the atonement.


This echoes what we find in the Nazarean Codicil:


Bereans (Hebrews) 9:7 But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: 8 The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: 9 Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; 10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. 11 But Mashiach being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; 12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.


When the manslayer flees to the city of refuge, he will be tempted to pray for the death of the Kohen Gadol, in order that he should be allowed to end his exile. The Talmud speaks of this problem:




GEMARA. What are the data [for the above statement]? — Said R. Kahana: They are [severally] indicated in the texts [the high priest being mentioned three times], And he shall abide in it unto the death of the high priest which was anointed with the holy oil; again it is written, Because he should have remained in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest; and once more, But after the death of the high priest the slayer shall return into the land of his possession. And whence R. Judah’s view? — It is written once again, [And ye shall take no satisfaction for him that is fled to the city of his refuge] that he should come again to dwell in the land, until the death of the priest. And the other? — Since the description ‘high’ is omitted therein, the last quoted passage is taken [by him] as [but a secondary reference to] one of the aforementioned.


THEREFORE MOTHERS OF HIGH PRIESTS [WERE WONT TO PROVIDE FOOD AND RAIMENT FOR THEM THAT THEY MIGHT NOT PRAY FOR THEIR SON’S DEATH]. The reason [given] is that the banished might not pray [for the high priest’s death]; but what if they should pray, [think you] he would die? [Surely the saying is,] As the flitting bird as the flying swallow, so the curse that is causeless shall [not] follow! Said a venerable old scholar: I heard an explanation at one of the sessional lectures of Raba, that [the high priests were not without blame, as] they should have implored Divine grace for [averting the sorrows of] their generation, which they failed to do. Others read in the Mishnah thus: THAT THEY MIGHT PRAY FOR THEIR SONS THAT THEY DIE NOT. The reason [given then] is that the banished should pray [for the high priest]; but, what if they did not pray [for him; think you] he would die? What should he have done [to avert it]? — As they say here [in Babylon]: ‘Toby did the [bad] jobbing and Ziggad got the [hard] slogging,’ or as they say there [in Palestine]: ‘Shechem got him a wife and Mabgai caught the knife.’ Said a venerable old scholar: I heard an explanation at one of the sessional lectures of Raba that [the high priests were not without blame, as] they should have implored Divine grace for [averting the sorrows of] their generation, which they failed to do.


These Cities of Refuge were, therefore, refuges in space.


Elul – A Refuge In Time


Elul is the month immediately preceding Tishri, and it serves as the spiritual preparation for the Rosh HaShanah, the Awesome Days, and Yom HaKippurim. It is the month of repentance, when an honest soul-reckoning, is made of the past year. Just as a businessman makes an assessment of his business to determine how to run it more smoothly and successfully, so a Jew in the month of Elul assesses his past year’s spiritual service to HaShem. It is a time to correct the wrongs we have done to our brothers, and to beseech HaShem for forgiveness.


The sixth month, the month of Elul has a unique quality. Each month has its own special quality. The letters in Elul - אלול hint to its special quality. We will look at three of these acronyms.


A. The letters of Elul - אלול are the initial letters[8] (acronym), in Hebrew, of Ani ledodi vedodi li:


Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) 6:3 I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.


This refers to the service of prayer, which joins together man and HaShem, I am my Beloved’s.[9] This suggests that Elul is a special time of prayer.


Indeed, in Elul, the Sephardic custom is to recite the special Selichot (penitential) prayers. Ashkenazim begin reciting Selichot at the end of Elul. Pious men and women rise before the break of dawn and go to the synagogue. There, the special prayers are recited with tears and anguish, as the days of the high holidays, Rosh HaShanah and Yom HaKippurim draw near.


The Baal Shem Tov called the days of Elul, the days when the King is in the field. He explained with a parable. Normally, in order to gain an audience with the King, one must go through a lengthy procedure. He must travel to the capital city, arrange an appointment, and then get permission to enter the palace. Even when permission is granted is may be days or weeks before he is finally allowed to enter. When he does finally get to see the King, the audience is likely to be short and very formal. The citizen, not used to the royal surroundings doubtlessly feels out of place, and maybe even regrets his decision to see the King. From his great fear and uneasiness, he may forget to put his request before the King.


Once a year, the King leaves his palace to visit the various regions of his Kingdom. While the King is in the field; relaxed and enjoying the early fall weather. He doesn’t stand on the same formality that he does when in the palace. The common folk are allowed to come out to greet the King and receive his blessing. During the month of Elul, the King is in the field and he is easily accessible. We need only make the effort to go out and greet Him.


B. The letters of Elul - אלול also form another acronym,[10] in Hebrew, for: Ish L’Rei’eihu U’Matanot L’Evyonim, as found in:


Esther 9:22 Each man [shall give presents] to his fellow, and gifts to the poor.


These are the deeds of loving kindness.


C. Elul also contains the idea of teshuva as alluded to by its very name. The letters of the word Elul - אלול are also the initial letters,[11] in Hebrew, of the words Ina Leyodo VeSamti Lecha - “[G-d] caused it to happen, and I will provide [a place] for you [to which he can flee.[12] In this passage we encounter the cities of refuge. Thus we have a connection between the cities of refuge as a place of refuge in space and Elul as a place of refuge in time:


Shemot (Exodus) 21:13 And if a man lie not in wait, but G-d cause it to come to hand; then I will provide a place (makom) whither he may flee.


Avot 4:14 Exile yourself to a place of Torah.


Elul is, therefore, a city of refuge in time. This haven in time is the entire month of Elul, where the Bne Israel takes shelter each year to rectify their spiritual shortcomings. Elul is the month of repentance, when assessment is made of the past year’s service to HaShem. It serves as a spiritualcity of refuge” where atonement for wrongdoing may be found. Even a person who sinned intentionally can find refuge in the month of Elul. Just as the city of refuge protected an intentional killer until his trial, so too does Elul provide sanctuary to an intentional sinner until Rosh HaShana.


All of the above aspects are paralleled in Elul. With every transgression, with every sin, a Jew sheds blood: he deprives his G-dly soul of its vitality. Yet atonement is always possible if the person will exile himself to the “city of refuge”, in the dimension of time, the month of Elul. Exile means to leave “your land, your birthplace and your father’s house”, the spiritual equivalent of which is to leave one’s desires, one’s character traits, and the conclusions reached by the human intellect, anything which is a barrier to total submission to the yoke of heaven. In short, a Jew must flee and wander from his egocentric existence and embrace a new life founded on the conclusions of true soul-searching and repentance. Then such galut is an atonement, both for intentional and unintentional transgressions, and one is saved from the seekers of vengeance, from any unfavorable pronouncements of heavenly justice for one’s sins.


Not only must cities of refuge be built, but, the Rambam writes, “the court is obliged to define the paths that lead to the cities of refuge, to repair them and to broaden them...” In spiritual terms, this corresponds to the paths whereby one reaches the spiritual city of refuge, the month of Elul.[13]


Because Elul is the preparation for Yom Teruah (Rosh HaShanah), the anniversary of the world’s creation, the service of Elul is associated with three things which maintain the world: Torah, prayer, and deeds of loving kindness[14]. They are the “paths” to the refuge of Elul, and are alluded to in its name. As elaborated on earlier, the letters of Elul are the initial letters of “[G-d] caused it to happen, and I will provide for you”. Although this refers to the general service of Elul as a “city of refuge” for one’s misdeeds of the past year, it also refers to the more particular aspect of Torah, as our Sages say,[15] “The words of Torah provide refuge.”


Someone who kills a person by mistake is not subject to death, but exile, therefore “I will assign you a place (makom) to which he can flee”.[16] Note that it says ‘a place’ (makom) and not ‘a city of refuge’.


Exile is also a form of atonement:


Makkoth 2b R. Johanan said that the sanction for this (substitutive penalty of a flogging) may be obtained by argument a fortiori, thus: Now, what do we find in the case of one who had effected his intended act [of murder]? He is not banished. Is it not then logical [to argue from this] that zomemim who had not [actually] effected their intended act should not be banished?


But does not this [very] argument point to a reverse conclusion? For is it not logical [to argue] that he who had effected the intended act [of murder] is not to go into banishment, so as not to obtain the possibility of atonement; whereas the zomemim who have not effected their intended act, should be allowed to go into banishment, so as to obtain the possibility of atonement? Hence the derivation as from the text, given by Resh Lakish, is the best.


Now that we have a bit of background, lets examine some “case histories” of those who have gone into exile.


Adam and Chava


Adam and Chava were created as eternal beings. They were designed to live forever. It is only through their sin that death entered the world. Not only death for Adam and Chava, but death for everything and everyone in the world. Even time dies. When a moment is gone, it is “dead”, never to return.


Adam and Chava went into galut, exile, from Gan Eden, after they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Their consumption of this fruit resulted in their eventual death and their galut from Gan Eden. Adam and Chava had to leave their makom, their ideal place:


Bereshit (Genesis) 3:21 Unto Adam also and to his wife did HaShem God make coats of skins, and clothed them. 22 And HaShem God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: 23 Therefore HaShem God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. 24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.


Midrash Rabbah - Numbers XXIII:13 THEN YE SHALL APPOINT YOU CITIES OF REFUGE... THAT THE MANSLAYER... MAY FLEE THITHER (XXXV, 11). This bears on the Scriptural texts, Good and upright is the Lord, therefore doth He instruct sinners in the way (Ps. XXV, 8). Remember, O Lord, Thy compassions and Thy mercies (ib. 6). David says: Sovereign of the Universe! Were it not for Thy mercies which came to the timely assistance of Adam, he could not have survived. For it says, In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Gen. II, 17), but Thou didst not do so unto him. Thou didst merely exclude him from the Garden of Eden and he lived nine hundred and thirty years, and only then did he die. What didst Thou do to him? Thou didst merely drive him from the Garden of Eden; as it says, So He drove out the man (ib. III, 24). Why was he driven out? Because he brought death upon future generations, and deserved to die immediately, but Thou didst have compassion upon him and didst drive him out, as is the fate of one who commits murder in error, such a man having to be an exile from his own home to the cities of refuge. Consequently it says, ‘Remember, O Lord, Thy compassions and Thy mercies,’ for they have been from of old (Ps. XXV, 6).


Pirke D’Rebbi Eliezer points out that when Adam was sent out of Gan Eden, he was exiled to Har HaMoriah.[17] According to some opinions in Chazal[18] this took place immediately after the judgment which took place on the sixth day of creation, before the beginning of that first Shabbat.


Har Moriah is the place of the Temple. It is the place of the Akeida. It is the ultimate place of Torah. It was in the Temple that the tablets of the testimony and the Torah scroll written by Moshe were kept. Thus we learn that when Adam inadvertently killed the world he was exiled from his makom to a place of Torah.


Kayin and Hevel


After Kayin killed Abel he was condemned to wander in galut. He had to leave “his makom”. This passage is particularly interesting because Kayin expresses the fact that this is an extremely severe punishment:


Bereshit (Genesis) 4:9 And HaShem said unto Kayin, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? 10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. 11 And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; 12 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. 13 And Kayin said unto HaShem, My punishment is greater than I can bear.


Kayin will eventually be killed by Lamech. In the meantime, his exile had no end, unlike the Torah requirement for the unintentional manslayer who was released when the Kohen Gadol died. So, why did Kayin escape the death penalty? The answer has two parts.


  1.  Since there were no witnesses to the crime, a Bet Din[19] would not be able to convict. Hence, he had the status of an unintentional manslayer and was condemned to galut.
  2. When a man is guilty of murder, HaShem gives the guilty verdict and He applies the penalty. Hence Kayin was killed, midda-kneged-midda,[20] by Lamech. Chazal teach that HaShem normally executes this penalty within one year of the time of the crime.


Yosef and His Brothers


When Israel and his family went into galut, if was shortly after Yosef’s brothers desired to kill him, but sold him instead. This is a very similar situation to the manslayer. Indeed, the Midrash even links these events with the cities of refuge:


Midrash Rabbah - Genesis LXXXIV:15 AND THE MAN SAID. LET US GO TO DOTHAN. For such are the designs of the Almighty. AND THEY SAW HIM AFAR OFF, etc. (XXXVII, 18). Said they: ‘Let us kill him by inciting the dogs against him’. AND THEY SAID ONE TO ANOTHER: BEHOLD, THIS DREAMER COMETH (XXXVII, 19). The Rabbi said: They exclaimed, ‘Behold, it is he, who is coming wrapt in his dreams!’ R. Levi said: They exclaimed that this one was to ensnare them into serving [foreign] overlords. COME NOW THEREFORE, AND LET US SLAY HIM... AND WE SHALL SEE WHAT WILL BECOME OF HIS DREAMS (XXXVII, 20). Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to them: Ye say, AND WE SHALL SEE, and I say, WE SHALL SEE: indeed we shall see whose words will be fulfilled.’


15. AND REUBEN HEARD IT, etc. (XXXVII, 21). Now where had he been? R. Judah said: Every one of them attended his father one day, and that day it was Reuben’s turn. R. Nehemiah said: [Reuben reasoned]: I am the firstborn and I alone will be held responsible for the crime. The Rabbis said: [Reuben reasoned]: He includes me with my brethren, and I am not to rescue him! I thought that I had been expelled [from the company of my brethren] on account of that incident, yet he counts me together with my brethren-And, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars (Gen. XXXVII, 9)-shall I then not deliver him! Said the Holy One, blessed be. He, to him: ‘Thou wast the first to engage in life saving: by thy life! the cities of refuge will be set up [first] nowhere else than within thy borders’; thus it is written, Bezer in the wilderness, in the table-land, for the Reubenites, etc. (Deut. IV, 43).


Moshe and the Egyptian


Moshe killed the Egyptian then he needed to flee to Midian. Remember that Moshe was a Hebrew who was adopted by an Egyptian and raised as a prince in Paro’s palace. When he went into galut for killing the Egyptian, he was leaving his parents, his adopted parents, and his status as a prince. His galut took him to Midian where he became a shepherd and a stranger in a strange land.


Shemot (Exodus) 2:11 And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren. 12 And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand. 13 And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? 14 And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known. 15 Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well.


Why did not Moshe deserve the death penalty? Why was he treated as an unintentional manslayer when he clearly intended to kill him?


Rashi says that Moshe killed the Egyptian with the explicit Divine Name (Shem HaMaforash).[21] The Malbim explains that a non-Jew who strikes a Jew is subject to the death penalty, but not at human hands, death from Heaven. This Moshe facilitated by invoking the Shem HaMaforash. Thus we see that Moshe was merely the conduit for HaShem to slay the Egyptian who was mistreating a Jew. Because Moshe was the conduit, the Torah tells us that Moshe slew the Egyptian.


Now, if you have difficulty with this explanation, consider that HaShem did not inflict any penalty on Moshe except galut, the penalty for unintentionally killing a man. Further, Moshe would later be chosen to be “king” of the Jews and to be the leader of the Jewish people for forty years. This is not the normal penalty for a murderer. Since HaShem dealt with Moshe midda-kneged-midda, we know that Moshe was only guilty of unintentional killing.


Midrash Rabbah - Deuteronomy II:29 THEN MOSES SEPARATED. R. Aibo said: When Moses fled he began to sing a song, as it is said, And dwelt in the land of Midian; and he sat down by a well  (Ex. II, 15). Just as Israel sang a song by a well, so too Moses sang a song by a well. R. Levi said: [He sang a song] because the section dealing with the homicide’s [flight] to the Cities of Refuge was carried into effect through him.


In The Wilderness


The wandering of the Jews in the desert was another example of the exile of the unintentional manslayer. The spies derogatory report caused the Bne Israel to shun the land and reject the Word of HaShem. This sin would result in the deaths of most of those who had left Mitzrayim.[22] Because the people did not realize that their sin would have this consequence, HaShem sent them into galut, forcing them to wander for forty years.


Bamidbar (Numbers) 13:31 - 14:1 But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we. 32  And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. 33  And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight. 1 And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. 2  And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! 3 And wherefore hath HaShem brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?


There is, in fact, a striking similarity between the galut of the Jews in the wilderness and that of an accidental murderer. The Jews in the wilderness never knew when they would be asked to move. When the cloud rose, they needed to pack their belongings and move on to the next location. In the instance of the cities of refuge, the manslayer’s galut ended with the death of the Kohen Gadol, an event that could not be predicted. In both cases, there was no predetermined time for the relocation to end, adding to the sense of instability.


It is interesting to note that the galut of the generation of the wilderness did not end until the death of the Kohen Gadol, Aaron:


Devarim (Deuteronomy) 10:6 And the children of Israel took their journey from Beeroth of the children of Jaakan to Mosera: there Aaron died, and there he was buried; and Eleazar his son ministered in the priest’s office in his stead.


Shortly after Aaron’s death, Joshua led the Bne Israel into the promised land and the Galut ended. This suggests that the death of Aharon was an atonement for the Bne Israel.


The ending of the galut in the wilderness and the entering of the Promised land hints also to the final redemption.


Seen in this light, we can now understand why the Torah juxtaposed the forty-two journeys of Bamidbar (Numbers) chapter 33 with the assigning of the forty-two Levitical cities of Bamidbar (Numbers) chapter 35. Clearly, the Levitical cities were also for the unintentional manslayer. Thus the forty-two stages of exile in the wilderness are directly associated with the forty-two Levitical cities which provided a refuge for the unintentional manslayer.


Exile In Megillat Ruth


In Sefer Ruth, Elimelech abandoned eretz Israel during the famine that struck Israel in the days of the judging of the judges. Since Elimelech was a leader of the generation with the financial resources to help the poor during this famine, his abandonment of the poor, undoubtedly, contributed to their deaths. While he exiled himself voluntarily, in the end HaShem insured that the exile was permanent. Elimelech never returned to eretz Israel.


In our study of Megillat Ruth, we saw that Elimelech’s exile is reminiscent of Adam’s exile. Like Adam’s exile that resulted in the birth of righteous Seth, so Elimelech’s exile led to the “dove from Moab”, Ruth.


The exile of Elimelech led to the fields of Moab. As we learned in our study of Ruth, we know that a field is a remez, a hint, to a place of Torah study. Elimelech’s exile led to Ruth’s exile. She, too, ended up in a field, the field of Boaz. Additionally, Ruth became a part of the messianic line.


Babylonian Galut


The Midrash makes an explicit connection between the cities of refuge and the Babylonian galut. This suggests that in general, if we see a galut we should look for the sin of inadvertent man slaying:


Midrash Rabbah - Numbers XXIII:14 THEN YE SHALL APPOINT YOU CITIES (XXXV, 11). It is also written, SIX CITIES OF REFUGE  (ib. 13). YE SHALL GIVE THREE CITIES BEYOND THE JORDAN, AND THREE CITIES SHALL YE GIVE IN THE LAND OF CANAAN  (ib. 14). There were three in the Land of Israel, in the west, and three beyond the Jordan, in the east, in the land of the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh; as it says, Bezer in the wilderness, in the table-land, for the Reubenites; and Ramoth in Gilead, for the Gadites; and Golan in Bashan, for the Manassites (Deut. IV, 43). This gives you three in the east. The three in the west were: Hebron, belonging to Judah, Shechem in the hill-country of Ephraim--this was Neapolis--and Kedesh in Galilee, belonging to the tribe of Naphtali. Moses divided [Transjordan] among Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, and set apart from these lands three cities; as it says, Then Moses separated three cities (ib. 41). But Joshua divided [the land] among all the tribes and gave to the tribe of Levi forty-eight cities, of which the priests took thirteen, the rest going to the Levites. Three cities of refuge they took in their lot, but in the Land the tribe of Levi took nothing. Why? They shall eat the offerings of the Lord made by fire, and His inheritance (ib. XVIII, 1). You find that Sennacherib carried them off in three sections. On the first occasion he exiled the Reubenites, Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh. On the second, the tribe of Zebulun and the tribe of Naphtali; as it says, In the former time he hath lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali (Isa. VIII, 23). On the third occasion he exiled the rest of the tribes; as it says, But on the latter he hath dealt a more grievous blow--hikbid  (ib.); ‘Hikbid’ implies that he swept them out  (hikbidam) as with a broom  (makbed). Nebuchadnezzar also drove out the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in three installments. On the first occasion he exiled Jehoiakim and on the second Jehoiachin. What did he do to him? He bound him [and seated him] in his most honored carriage; as may be inferred from the text, ‘For behold I shall send her away like the queen-mother1; as a queen-mother is honored by men, so was Jehoiachin honored by Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuzaradan exiled Zedekiah This gives you three exiles. The Holy one, blessed be He, said: ‘In this world, as a result of iniquities, Israel were exiled and dispersed through the gates of the Land,’ as it says, And I fan them with a fan in the gates of the land (Jer. XV, 7). For Sennacherib was the lord of the world, and used to exile some to one place and others to another. He drove Israel to Babylon and brought those who were in Babylon here.3 In the time to come, however, If any of thine that are dispersed be in the uttermost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will He fetch thee (Deut. XXX, 4). And gather together the scattered of Judah from the four corners of the earth (Isa. XI, 12). Isaiah in the same strain says, The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away (ib. XXXV, 10).


Mashiach ben Yosef and the Bne Israel


The sins of the Bne Israel resulted in the death of Yeshua HaMashiach, albeit inadvertently. That same generation that saw Yeshua crucified also saw the destruction of the Bet HaMikdash, the symbol of Mashiach’s body, and the subsequent galut; the longest galut in our history. The tikkun for our sins that inadvertently caused the death of Mashiach, is to go into galut to a take refuge in Mashiach, the ultimate place (makom) of Torah.


Chazal tell us that the first Temple was destroyed because Israel had violated the “cardinal sins” of idolatry, murder, and immorality, while the second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred:


Yoma 9b Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three things that occurred in it: Idolatry, unseemly provocative sexual behavior, and bloodshed... But the Second Temple, where they occupied themselves with Torah, Commandments and acts of benevolence, why was it destroyed? Because there was baseless hatred. This teaches that baseless hatred is equated with three sins: idolatry, provocative sexual behavior and bloodshed.


Now Mashiach has told us that hatred is related to killing in:


Matityahu (Matthew) 5:21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22  But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. 23  Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; 24  Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.


We can infer that our actions of unintentional man slaying was the cause of the destruction of the second Temple.


We can also understand that it is the atonement of Mashiach, The Living Torah, that will end this bitter exile. It is the death of Mashiach ben Yosef, our Kohen Gadol, which provides the atonement which will allow us to enter the Promised Land, our makom, under the leadership of Mashiach ben David!


Thus we see that the solution to the manslayer’s exile is Torah and that the ultimate end to our national exile is found in The Living Torah, Mashiach. We must seek to study Torah and perform the mitzvot in order to gain the atonement of galut.


City of Refuge = Torah


All of these unintentional manslayers went into galut because of their sin. They were forced to leave their makom, their place, because they caused others to lose their place in this world. The goal of the galut is the tikkun, the correction, of the individual that can be found in Torah. The reason for galut in the cities of refuge was to force the manslayer to study Torah and confront the mitzvot twenty-four hours a day. The constant interaction between the manslayer and the Levites would be life-changing and would enable the manslayer to change his heart.


From this, we understand that the Temple’s destruction and ensuing galut for which we mourn, on Tisha B’Ab. Exile is analogous to a city of refuge. Just as the inadvertent manslayer exiled himself to a city of refuge, so too, the Jewish people were exiled because of inadvertent sins. Their tikkun is found in their study of Torah.


At this point, we can shed new light on what lies behind Simchat Torah, which Chazal combined together with Shemini Atzeret, the day after Succoth. In Devarim (Deuteronomy) 4:41, the Torah relates that Moshe before his passing, set aside the three ‘Arei Miklot’ cities of refuge, on the eastern side of the Jordan. Immediately afterwards in Devarim 4:44, the pasukim teaches, ‘And this is the law which Moshe set before the children of Israel’. The Baal HaTurim points out that this pasuk comes to teach that a person must exile one’s self to a place of Torah, as is taught in:


Avot 4:14 Exile yourself to a place of Torah.


Rabeinu Bachya points out that the pasukim come to teach me that Torah protects a person even more than an ‘Ir Miklat’ (city of refuge) for the ‘Ir Miklat’ saves only for a sin done inadvertently while Torah saves from all sin. Furthermore, the Midrash describes a dialogue between Klal Israel and HaShem in which Klal Israel want to know how they will atone for their sins when the existence of cities of refuge will cease. HaShem’s answer is that there will always be Torah!


We can now appreciate Chazal’s choosing the day that follows Succoth as ‘Simchat Torah’. When we leave that succah that serves us as a refuge when we are forced to exile; we are distraught as to where will our salvation come from. Therefore Chazal made sure that we will choose this day to reach the greatest intimacy with the Torah, thereby appreciating it’s special quality of serving as our salvation and refuge at all times. These are certainly appropriate thought when we begin again the cycle of Torah reading with Bereshit and learn about Adam and Cain having had to undergo their respective exiles. We must remember that we have Torah that serves as the greatest refuge. May HaShem open our hearts and our eyes to appreciate and see the depth of His Torah!!


* * *


In an allegorical sense, there exist six “cities of refuge” for the spiritual manslayer. Life, in the true and ultimate sense, is connection with The Source[23]; an act of transgression against the divine will is a subtle form of manslaying, as it hinders the flow of vitality from HaShem to His creation. The words of the Torah, say Chazal, are the “cities of refuge” for the destroyer of spiritual life; if he flees into the Torah and immerses himself in it, the Torah will protect him from the adverse results of his deed.


Makkoth 10a A Tanna taught: A disciple who goes into banishment is joined in exile by his master, in accordance with the text, and that fleeing unto one of these cities he might live[24], which means — provide him with whatever he needs to live[25]. R. Ze’ira remarked that this is the basis of the dictum, ‘Let no one teach Mishnah to a disciple that is unworthy.’ R. Johanan said: A master who goes into banishment is joined in exile by his College. But that cannot be correct, seeing that R. Johanan said: Whence can it be shown [Scripturally] that the study of the Torah affords asylum[26]? From the verse, [Then Moses separated three cities . . .] Bezer in the wilderness . . . Ramoth... and Golan . . ., which is followed by, and this-the law which Moses set before the children of Israel[27]? — This [discrepancy] is not difficult [to explain]. One [of his sayings] is applicable to the scholar who maintains his learning in practice, while the other saying is applicable to him who does not maintain it in practice. Or, if you will, I might say that ‘asylum’ means refuge from the Angel of Death, as told of R. Hisda who was sitting and rehearsing his studies in the school-house and the Angel of Death could not approach him, as his mouth would not cease rehearsing. He [thereupon] perched upon a cedar of the school-house and, as the cedar cracked under him, R. Hisda paused and the Angel overpowered him[28].


* * *


This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:


Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

4544 Highline Drive SE

Olympia, WA 98501


Internet address:  gkilli@aol.com

Web page:  http://www.betemunah.org/


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[1] Bereshit Rabbah 68:9: Shemot Rabba 45:6

[2] The Kli Yakar notes that these forty-two cities correspond to the forty-two encampments of the Jews in the desert.

[3] Bamidbar 35:6

[4] An acronym for Torah, Neviim, and Ketuvim – the so-called Old Testament.

[5] Bamidbar (Numbers) 35:11, 35:12, 35:13, 35:14, 35:15, then 35:25, 35:26, 35:27, 35:28, 35:32.

[6] The first set of five teach us how to love HaShem.

[7] The second set of five teach us how to love our neighbor.

[8] Avudraham, Seder Tefillot Rosh HaShanah

[9] Kuntres HaAvodah chs. 1,3

[10] Sefer Arugas HaBosem

[11] Pri Etz Chaim, Shaar Rosh HaShanah, ch. 1.

[12] Shemot (Exodus) 21:13

[13] Also indicated is the obligation of every Jew to publicize the service of teshuva of Elul, and not rest content with saving only himself in this city of refuge.

[14] Avot 1:2

[15] Makkoth 10a

[16] Shemot (Exodus) 21:13

[17] Har HaMoriah = Mount Moriah.

[18] Sanhedrin 38b

[19] A court.

[20] Measure-for-measure.

[21] The YHVH - יהוה name.

[22] All males over 20 years of age except:  Joshua, Caleb, and the tribe of Lev. All of the women also survived.

[23] Devarim 4:4 and 30:20; Berachot 18b.

[24] Devarim  4:42.

[25] I.e., also the spiritual life.

[26] Refuge from evil and wrong-doing. Cf. Sot. 21a.

[27] Devarim 4:41-45.

[28] Cf. Shab. 30b, a similar incident about King David, and B.M. 86a, about Rabbah b. Nahmani.