So, how do these Cities of Refuge operate and who has the right to escape to these protected cities? And how long must he stay there?
It’s time for a Shazak Scenario:
The cities were not a safe haven for everyone. Ruthless Reuven, for example, killed his arch enemy. R.R. is called a Maizid – an intentional murderer. No extended stay in the City of Refuge for him, so off he goes to Beis Din, to a court of Jewish law, where judgement will be passed. If there were two proper witnesses who gave R.R. proper warning, the consequences can be really bad – and you know what.
But how about, for example, harmless Baruch Brickenstein the Bricklayer, who wouldn’t hurt a soul, but one day while laying some bricks on the top story of this huge building, trips and OOPS, B.B. the B. (Baruch Brickenstein the Bricklayer) drops a B. (a brick).
“Watch out below! Do you hear me? Watch out below!”
Oh no! Shimon didn’t hear the warning and… Kerplunk! Shimon is history.
Well, you can’t call this brickdrop a complete accident – Baruch should have been more careful – yet on the other hand Baruch the Bricklayer certainly did not plan to kill Shimon, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So here’s where it gets interesting. On the one hand, the Torah allows Shimon’s close relative, such as the father or brother, to take revenge and kill Baruch. On the other hand, HaShem sets aside the six cities as a safe haven, where Baruch is protected from the relatives who want to take his life.
There were even signs posted all over the roads, written, “Miklat! Miklat!” with arrows pointing to the direction of the Cities of Refuge.
But how long must this person stay inside the Miklat City? Forever?!
The good news (at least for him) is that the passing of the Kohen Gadol is his key to freedom. Once the High Priest passes away, he is allowed to leave. But if he leaves any time before this… WATCH OUT for relatives!
“Keep him until the Kohen Gadol dies.” What’s the connection between the death of the Kohen Gadol and the accidental killer?
Here are 4 explanations:
The Kohen Gadol was a very beloved person, just like the first Kohen Gadol, Aharon, the brother of Moshe. When Aharon passed away, everyone – men, women and children mourned for him – even more than they cried when Moshe passed away! So, when the Kohen Gadol dies, during this time of great sadness, it’s more likely for people to forgive each other. So at that point it would be safe for the accidental killer to go free.
They can’t… It’s IMPOSSIBLE for any human to determine this. HaShem is the only one able to judge in this case.
So somehow, some way, HaShem made sure that each one’s “MIklat sentence” should be the exact amount of time needed to cleanse each killer’s Neshamah (soul) of the sin of killing!
Confusing? Well, here’s a Shazak Scenario:
Risky Reuven, who was always taking risks, killed someone by accident – while he was climbing a huge ladder to the sixth floor of this tall building, he dropped some of his equipment, and you know what…
Compare this with good ol’ Gedalyah who also killed someone by accident – he mistakenly knocked a flowerpot off his 10th floor window, and you know what…
Understandably, Risky Reuven’s “accident” was worse than good ol’ Gedalyah’s accident. So, Risky Reuven needed 4 years for his “cleaning/forgiveness” for having fallen off a ladder onto poor Shimon’s head, and good ol’ Gedalyah needed only 1 year to be forgiven.
So how would that work out fairly? Simple! Leave it up to HaShem. HaShem made sure that Reuven’s sentence would begin exactly 4 years before the death of the Kohen Gadol, and Levi’s sentence would start just 1 year before.
Now that the Kohen Gadol passed away, they both had just the right amount of “cleaning/forgiveness.”
Although we no longer have Cities of Refuge, the word Miklat is very important in modern-day Israel. It refers to the special buildings and rooms where people can find safe shelter from attacks.
But not only in Israel, in almost every big city in the world, there is this sort of Miklat. Indeed, all major countries have an embassy (or consulate), a “home away from home” for their citizens. Under normal circumstances, it serves as an office. If you lose your passport while traveling, for example, you’d go to the consulate to get a new one. But these places also serve as a “Miklat,” a safe haven in times of unrest. If someone finds himself in a foreign country and war breaks out – Oh No! – the first they do is to run to their country’s embassy as fast as they can. HURRY!