Torah As A City of Refuge

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A Unique Remedy for Tragic Accidents

Before the Jewish People enter the Land of Israel, God commands Moses to designate six cities of refuge. The Torah laws of the cities of refuge are unique. If a person has accidentally killed another, he may flee to one of these cities, three on each side of the Jordan River. As long as he is within the boundaries of the city, no relatives of the deceased are allowed to harm him. If he wants to be safe, the perpetrator of this unintentional crime must remain in the city of refuge, not leaving its confines until the death of the High Priest.

Life and Death in the Hand of the Tongue

Our sages teach that when we speak evil of another person, three people have been murdered:

1. The speaker
2. The listener
3. The subject of the evil speech

Although most people would not intentionally murder another, almost everyone is guilty of unintentionally killing another person through his speech; either by saying hurtful things directly to another, or by speaking ill of him, albeit without harmful intent. The Ba'al Shem Tov taught that the Torah is relevant to all people at all times and places. As such, we all need to flee to a city of refuge, where we can protect ourselves and rectify this tragic sin.

The Torah Refuge

Spiritually, the ultimate city of refuge is the Torah, as God commanded Joshua, "and you shall study it day and night." When we run to the Torah, (to run in Hebrew is ratz, cognate to the word for "will," ratzon. When a person runs toward something, he is activating very strong will) we express a strong will to immerse completely in its depths, taking refuge in its rectifying words. When our consciousness is totally in line with the Torah, we will no longer be vulnerable to harm, and more importantly, will no longer be in a state of mind that would allow us to hurt another, even unintentionally.

The Abstract Model

Kabbalah analyzes phenomena in the Torah by relating them to each other. The Hebrew word for "refuge," miklat, appears 10 times in this Torah section, in two groups of five. The first parallel concept that should immediately come to mind is the Ten Commandments, which were also given on two tablets of 5.

The fact that the word miklat appears 10 times relates the cities of refuge to the essence of the number 10. This consummate number corresponds to the Ten Sefirot — the Divine emanations through which God created the world — and to the ten powers of the soul that we must rectify and illuminate with the Divine light of our souls. We must activate all ten powers of our souls to run to the city of refuge and integrate its message.

Personal and Impersonal Refuge

As mentioned above, the word miklat appears in our Torah section in two groups of five. The first group appears at the beginning of the discussion of unintentional murder. In this group, the word miklat appears three times in conjunction with the word Ir, "city of," and twice as l'miklat, which means "to the refuge." All of these references are impersonal.

Following this initial discussion of unintentional murder, the Torah continues to relate the laws of the person who intentionally murders. The Torah then resumes the discussion of the unintentional murderer. This time, though, the word miklat appears in a personal context. In all five instances, the Torah uses the word miklato, "his refuge."

The Two Way Street

Beside "refuge," the root of miklat (kuf, lamed, tet) has two other meanings: absorption and integration. Both of these meanings are integral to our understanding of the function of the city of refuge.

The process of absorption begins when a person enters a new reality. He becomes consumed within his new, all encompassing environment. Slowly, he becomes acquainted with, and enamored of his new surroundings, and learns how to function happily and effectively. He has been absorbed into the surrounding light of his new reality. This absorption is relatively impersonal, corresponding to the first set of 5 words for "refuge" above.

The process of integration is the opposite dynamic. To integrate a new reality is to absorb it into oneself, allowing it to penetrate and permeate one's very being. Integration is totally personal, entering into the person's psyche and changing his way of life. It corresponds to the second, personal set of 5 words for "refuge" above.

The Mysterious Road Sign

In the Talmud we learn that in Biblical times, road signs pointing to the nearest city of refuge were liberally scattered throughout the Land of Israel. Each sign had two words: Miklat Miklat. The numerical value of miklat is 179 (a prime number). The value of 2 times miklat is 358, the numerical value of "Mashiach." So we see that the road sign pointing to the city of refuge actually points one toward a new, Messianic consciousness.

When a person flees to the city of refuge — the new consciousness of Torah and particularly the inner, Messianic dimension of the Torah — he first must become totally absorbed in and enamored of it, never wanting to leave. In this beginning state, the Torah encompasses his entire being and consciousness, and it is not critically important to what extent he understands all that he studies. The most important inner sense for him to develop is that this infinite, Divine light and wisdom has been given to him as an undeserved gift. The more that a person develops this sense, the more that he becomes absorbed into the Messianic Torah consciousness.

In order for his new Messianic consciousness to remain an eternal part of his being, protecting him from harm and from harming others, the person must redirect his experience, consciously integrating it into his being. (The desire to integrate the object of one's love and desire into his being is the logical second stage of this process).

The classic text of Chassidut, Tanya, explains that only the Torah can fully surround a person while simultaneously being fully within him. This is because the wisdom of the Torah is infinite. (In the case of finite wisdom, either the person does not understand it, in which case the wisdom surrounds him, or he totally understands it, in which case the wisdom is within him. As it is finite, it cannot surround him and be within him simultaneously.)

Only infinite wisdom includes both dynamics of absorption and integration. This thought is reflected in Psalms 1:2, which describes the happy person who goes in the ways of the Torah. The first part of the verse reads, "…his desire is only in the Torah of God." This is the stage of absorption. The Torah is God's and it is the only desire of the person being absorbed in it. The second part of the verse reads "and in his Torah he will immerse himself day and night." At this point the Torah has already been integrated into the person's soul — so much so that it is even referred to as his, the studier's, Torah.

Five Messianic Manifestations

There are five levels to the soul. The Mashiach ascends from level to level, until he reaches the peak of his Messianic mission. Each of the pairs of 5 levels of absorption into and integration of the city of refuge points to one of these levels. When we run to and are absorbed into the inner, Messianic dimension of the Torah, and integrate it into our souls, we enter into a state of Messianic consciousness. This consciousness will rectify our souls and bring true redemption to the entire world.

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