CITIES OF REFUGE

July 31st, 2019

Although the plan was to conquer the Land of Canaan so that the nation could settle there, as promised covenantally to the patriarchs, and reiterated to Moses, two-and-a-half tribes decided to settle across the Jordan River, on the plains of Moab. As part of the process of setting the groundwork for Jewish life on the east side of the Jordan, Moses set up three ‘cities of refuge’, a mirror image of the three ‘cities of refuge’ that would be set up on the west side of the Jordan. These cities would act as ‘sanctuary’ for those guilty of negligent manslaughter in the future, once civil structures were fully in place. 

But why the hurry to set them up now? What was the urgency? In fact, they would not be effective until the other three were in place. More puzzling is the positioning of the cities of refuge directive in the Torah, with no seeming relevance to the adjacent material. Rabbi Dunner examines the fascinating phenomenon of “Arei Miklat”, and Moses’ eagerness to create these refuge cities even though they would not become relevant until many years after his passing, revealing some fundamental lessons in Judaism and Jewish leadership.

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