OU Torah Insights Project
In this week's parshah, Hashem commands Moshe Rabeinu to establish cities of refuge, safe-havens for those who kill unintentionally, or even intentionally if their cases are still being decided by the Supreme Court.
The Talmud tells us that the Bnei Yisrael built wide, paved roads leading to these cities and had signposts marking the way so that these hunted people (they were fair game to the deceaseds next-of-kin) could quickly and easily reach safety without having to stop and ask directions.
Today, we have no actual cities of refuge. Nonetheless, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt"l, writes, that the Torahs message is eternal and the notion of these cities remains relevant.
Many Jews are at a crossroads in their lives. One road is the path of Torah and mitzvos, which assures a fulfilled life both spiritually and materially. The other road, devoid of Torah and mitzvos, leads to assimilation, discontent and spiritual frustration.
The job of rabbis and lay-people alike is to be like the signposts leading to these citiesclearly marking the Path of Life, showing people that this is their refuge, the way that will bring them toward fulfillment.
If we have an obligation to help our brothers and sisters with their material needs through the mitzvah of tzedakah, how much more so do we have an obligation to help all Jews with their spiritual needs, regardless of their observance, knowledge, and affiliation.
A Chassid of Rav Sholom Dov Ber, zt"l, of Lubavitch once inquired of the Rebbe why he spent so much of his time with simple, unlearned Jews.
The Rebbe asked the Chassida jeweler by tradeif he had any gems with him. The Chassid emptied a bag of stones on the table. The Rebbe looked at them and picked out the largest one, "Is this the most precious stone you have," he asked.
The Chassid shook his head. "Actually," he said, pointing out a small, uncut diamond, "This is the most precious. Once it is cut and polished properly its brilliance will be appreciated by all. With all due respect, Rebbe, when it comes to diamonds you have to be an expert."
"Precisely," said the Rebbe. "When it comes to neshamos you also have to be an expert."
As we observe the Three Weeks that lead up to Tishah B'Av, let us reflect on our obligation to provide this spiritual safe-haven for all Jews.
The Gemara tells us that the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinam, senseless hatred. By employing ahavas chinam, senseless love, instead, we will turn the day of Tisha B'Av to a day of rejoicing with the building of the final Beis Hamikdash.Rabbi Pinchas Herman
Rabbi Herman is rabbi of Congregation Sharei Israel in Raleigh, NC.