Netvort Vaeschanan 5772: That’s Life
By Rabbi Joshua (vitally known as the Hoffer) Hoffman
At the end of Moshe’s first discourse to the nation before his death, after recounting their past history, God’s choosing them as his nation, and adjoining them to observe the commandments, Moshe sets aside three cities of refuge on the eastern side of the Jordan to protect an inadvertent manslayer from a blood avenger. What was the significance of Moshe designating these cities at this time? The Ramban cites Ibn Ezra, who says that this designation is related to the covenant that follows, to keep the mitzvos. We may add that this would explain why the Torah says, directly after Moshe’s designation of the three cities, “And this is the Torah that Moshe places before the children of Israel” (Devarim 4:44).
Ramban disagrees with Ibn Ezra and says that the designation of the cities relates to what preceded it. Moshe had just told the people to observe God’s commandments. He then tells them that, together, they should now proceed to do just that. By designating the three cities, they were fulfilling the first available mitzvoh. It seems from the Ramban, that the collective nature of this mitzvoh performance was of great importance. Perhaps the idea behind this is that, in this collective act, the nation was defining itself in its role as God’s representatives on Earth. Thus, immediately after hearing of God’s choosing them, they took practical steps to carry out that role.
The rabbis point out that the three cities now designated could not operate as cities of refuge until the other three cities, on the other side of the Jordan, would be set aside as well. Moshe, however, wanted to do as much as he could while he was still alive. The Rambam notes that Moshe’s love for God and his desire to do his mitzvos was so great that he was eager to do even a partial mitzvoh. Following the Ramban, who says that Moshe included the collective in his designation of the cities, the nation was thereby inculcated with a love for doing mitzvos, as well.
The statement, “And this is the Torah that Moshe placed before the children of Israel,” after the designation of the three cities, then, may refer to the need to perform mitzvos out of love, as Moshe demonstrated to the people. Alternatively, it may refer to the presentation of the Decalogue that follows, as we suggested following Ibn Ezra. We may, however, suggest further that it refers to what preceded and to what follows. One of the laws that apply to the cities of refuge is that if a wise man, or Torah scholar, is exiled to one of those cities, his teacher must follow him into exile as well. The Talmud explains that this is derived from the statement of the Torah that the cities are provided for the inadvertent manslayer to live in them (Devarim, 19:4). The Rambam, in his Mishnah Torah, laws of the man-slaughterer, explains that for a wise man, life without the pursuit of wisdom is not really life. Perhaps, then, when the Torah says, “This is the Torah that Moshe placed before the children of Israel,” after the designation of cities of refuge, and then proceeds to record the Decalogue which includes within it all the mitzvos of the Torah, we are being taught that the general principle of Torah is that in order to observe it properly we must view it as our source of life, just as the Torah Scholar in the city of refuge finds meaning in his life only through his continued pursuit of Torah learning.
Netvort central wishes a joyous 15th of Av and a comforting Shabbos to everyone in Netvort land and beyond!