(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In the Torah portion of Masei, which concludes the Book of Numbers, we continue reading about certain halachot (Jewish laws) given as preparation for the entrance into the Land of Israel. The nation was camping in the plains of Moab on the eastern side of the Jordan River, awaiting the imminent entrance to the land. Meanwhile, they were given commandments whose purpose was to organize public life in the land where they were to establish a Jewish state.One of the commandments written in this portion is about the city of refuge. A person who intentionally kills someone is punished by death, according to the Torah. But if one kills someone unintentionally, he is sentenced to exile – a sort of “house arrest” in a specific city. This city is called a city of refuge since it protects its inhabitants. In a tribal society, a relative of the deceased might try to take revenge upon the killer and kill him. Sadly, even today, this is customary in some societies. The city of refuge protects the killer and prevents the relative from exacting revenge.