Shelter: Parashat Mattot/Mas`ei


Parashat Mattot/Mas`ei 
Numbers 30:2 – 36:13

They call it – “`ir miqlat – a city of shelter.”  (Num. 35:11) And yes, it is safe here. The avenger seeking my death cannot touch me here. The avenger will not listen to my story, will not listen to reason. I did not mean to kill their loved one. Of course, I wish it never happened! It was a tragic accident! Yet I feel a heavy burden of guilt. And the avenger will have it no other way. If not for my fleeing here faster than they could catch me, I would be just as dead as their beloved. So, this city keeps me safe. Here is security and forgiveness, as it keeps my unforgiving enemy at bay.

But, in its own way, the city is just as jealous as that blood redeemer is. Once it takes you in, it holds you and won’t let you go. My safety lies in staying in this prison. The State is powerful enough to set aside this city of shelter – wholly devoted to granting protection to me and the likes of me. But it is not powerful enough to change the heart of the bereaved who seeks vengeance and refuses to forgive. It cannot stop the desire for vengeance. It can only shield me from that desire. So, it will never be safe for me to leave this place as long as the avenger lurks outside.

But, perhaps, if the State cannot move the avenger’s heart, it can push me to move my own? Stuck in assured but constricting safety, can I overcome my own feelings of guilt – or lack of guilt? Where is my soul supposed to land as I serve my indeterminate sentence under the watchful eyes of my Levitical wardens? Am I supposed to reach some place of quiet? Regret? Rage at my relentless pursuer?

Perhaps I am supposed to ponder my options. I may have to live the rest of my days here. But there is one small chance I have for leaving. I will be freed if and when the High Priest dies. (v. 25) Why should that death free me? Will the avenger be so moved by it that he will give up his vendetta? I am not sure of that. I cannot imagine that the blood-avenger will not leap at the chance to kill me as soon as I walk out “free” from my safe haven. No. Instead, any change of heart will depend on me. Will I have enough time in this city of refuge to reach a place wherein I can accept my death? If the High Priest will die, I can hope for nothing else for myself.

I will pray that the High Priest live long enough for me to get to that place of death’s acceptance.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi David Greenstein

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Thank you to John Lasiter for suggesting the title and selecting an image for this Torah Sparks – Rabbi Greenstein


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Rabbi David Greenstein

Rabbi David Greenstein

Rabbi David Greenstein arrived at Shomrei Emunah in August 2009 with a rich, broad and deep background as a rabbi, cantor, artist, scholar, and teacher. Being Shomrei’s rabbi, he says, allows him to draw on all of these passions, as well as his lifelong commitment to building Jewish communities.
Rabbi David Greenstein

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