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|Mitzvos to date:||410|
|That can be performed today:||172|
|Plus those that can be performed only in Israel:||20|
410. Get Outta Town!: The obligation to exile a manslaughterer to a city of refugeby Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
…the assembly shall return him to his city of refuge… (Numbers 35:25)
If one person killed another by accident, he was to be sent to a city of refuge (see Mitzvah #408). While there, he was protected from potential revenge by the victim’s family. (They were not permitted to touch the offender while inside a city of refuge. If they caught him outside, they were permitted to avenge their slain relative.) The people who were sent these cities had to live there until the Kohein Gadol in office passed away.
The reason underlying this mitzvah is that human life is precious. The one who killed may not have acted with malice aforethought but he was still careless and caused a tragedy. He may not deserve capital punishment but his actions still have repercussions. Just as he deprived the victim’s family and friends, he is now separated from his home and support system. In this, there is an element of atonement.
Of course, we are left with the question as to why the sentence of the manslaughter offenders lasts until the Kohein Gadol dies. According to the Talmud in Makkos (11a), the Kohein Gadol, as spiritual leader of the nation, bears an aspect of responsibility. If he were doing a better job, such accidents wouldn’t happen on his watch.
This mitzvah applies at a time when the Jews reside in Israel. In the Talmud, it is discussed in the second chapter of tractate Makkos. This mitzvah is codified in the Mishneh Torah in the fifth chapter of Hilchos Rotzei’ach and is #225 of the 248 positive mitzvos in the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos.