Friday, July 25, 2014

Am I A Murderer?

One of the themes in the parsha this week (Maasei) is the Cities of Refuge, the arai miklat. These are special cities where entry is allowed only by someone who's guilty of accidental murder. The reason these cities were founded was not only to escape the perhaps revengeful hand of the victim's pained family, but also because people who belong there are generally good, straight individuals who committed these unforgivable crimes completely by mistake, and were so torn and broken about it that they just didn't know what to do with themselves or where to go.

The  Chidushei HaRim explains that when someone in klal yisrael hurts someone, even unintentionally, he naturally feels full of pain and guilt. In fact, he'll be so broken that he'll feel as if he has no place in the world for him to go. That's why Hashem is offering him this City Of Refuge- a safe cove for him to hide in until the passing of the Kohen Gadol which served as the dismissal bell.

I have a friend who, a couple of years ago, at the age of 28 had 6 kids under the age of 10. May she live and be well. One day, her husband went into the hospital for a very minor, uncomplicated sinus procedure, where he was in the hands of a skilled doctor. During the surgery, though, the doctor accidentally touched a wrong nerve which caused bleeding in his eye. While trying to fix that, he shifted the bleeding and caused his patient a serious brain hemorrhage. He remained in the hospital, completely relying on life support, in a vegetative state, for the last few months of his life.
The point of bringing you this tragic story was not just to be a carrier of bad news. No way. It's because the doctor, a fine, honest, caring Jew, was so beside himself with pain and guilt that he just didn't, and still doesn't know where to put himself. He wants to run. He wants to hide. He wants to cry. He wants to repent. When I was reading the parsha this week, I understood a little better how important it is to have these cities of refuge for people who are guilty- but purely by accident.

Now, there's a catch here. Yes, the cities of refuge are a wonderful thing for people. But, it only helps if a person really feels remorse and pain. It only benefits a person who is so shattered by what he did that he feels there is no place in the world for him to go.  Someone who's not touched or moved too deeply by his mistake will not find consolation or benefit in any way from going there.
Why not?
Because when you harm someone in any way, and you deeply regret it, this can be something very positive and beneficial. It can motivate you to improve. It can encourage you to be more careful next time. Even when we do things by accident, there's a high chance that if we would have been just that much more careful, it wouldn't have happened. So if the guilty feeling brings one to be more attentive or less negligent in the future, there will definitely be a positive outcome from their mistake. And that's what the arei miklat are for. To help deal with the guilty party's emotions and help him become a person who's more conscious and careful.

Thank God most of us aren't actually killing anybody, but we still manage to hurt people in many other ways. We don't have a City Of Refuge for that, nor do we need one. But let's at least try to feel guilty when we do, and try to turn those feelings into greater consciousness and alertness.

Someone once went to the Steipler Gaon and asked him for a bracha that he should be found innocent in court for a  violation of a traffic law. Instead of giving him a blessing, the Steipler admonished him, saying "If you violated a traffic law, you're endangering the lives of other people. Therefore, you are deserving  of the greatest punishment."
We hurt people with words and with actions. Ironically, we also hurt people with a lack of words and a lack of action.
This weeks parsha teaches us AWARENESS. To recognize when  we have caused someone pain and to feel so bad about that mistake, that we will not repeat it again in the future.

Have a great shabbos!