Local Judge, Distant Sentence

July 17, 2015 at 10:15 PM , , ,

“…These shall be for you a statute of justice for all your generations, in all your dwelling places…” – Bamidbar 35:29

וְהָיוּ אֵלֶּה לָכֶם לְחֻקַּת מִשְׁפָּט לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם בְּכֹל מוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם – במדבר לה, כט

A person who accidentally caused someone’s death would be exiled by the court to one of the six Cities of Refuge where he would be safe from potential avengers of the deceased’s blood. The Sifri notes that only Cities of Refuge in the Land of Israel provided such protection. Meaning, if a person killed someone accidentally outside of Israel, he would ultimately be exiled to the Land of Israel (see Sifri, Masei 35:13). His trial and sentencing, however, would take place in a local court outside of the Land of Israel (see Sifri Zuta, Masei 35:29).

Local Judge

This distinction between the place of the trial and the place of the exile can be explained as follows. The struggle to abide by the Torah’s commands is much greater outside the Land of Israel than it is in the Holy Land, a land where one can sense that “the eyes of Hashem your G-d are always upon it” (Devarim 11:12). Therefore, a person who committed a crime outside the Land of Israel must be tried before local judges, who understand the realities and challenges faced by the one they are judging. The local judges can identify with the struggles of the defendant and sentence him accordingly.

If the court finds the defendant guilty, however, he must be exiled to a City of Refuge in the Land of Israel. This sentence is not a punishment, but a method of rehabilitation. Complete rehabilitation requires that not only should the person who committed the crime regret his deeds of the past; he must also be steadfast in his resolve to conduct himself differently in the future. Now, the Midrash (Beraishis Rabbah 5:8) attributes the name Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, to the Hebrew word ratz, running: “Why is it called Eretz? Because it runs (ratz) to do the will of its Master.” Therefore, for a complete rehabilitation, the person who accidentally committed such a grievous crime cannot remain outside of the Land of Israel. He must relocate to the Land of Israel, Eretz Yisrael, where “running to do the will of his Master” will become his second nature.

—Likutei Sichos, vol. 2, pp. 380-382


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