Yom Chamishi, 26 Kislev 5778
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Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah--Matot-Masei

Ok, herein lies the next chapter of Torah meets the real world. This week’s Torah portion speaks of the need to designate six sanctuary cities (Numbers 35:13). No, I am not making this up or reading my interpretation into the text. The text calls for us to designate places for people to go, to protect them from vigilantism. Someone who commits a major offense retreats to a sanctuary city. The residents of the city protect that person until a lawful order comes through seeking his arrest. Sanctuary cities do not break the law. The misperception is that the sanctuary city battles the government to protect criminals. They do not protect hardened criminals or those fleeing the law. Simply, a sanctuary city makes sure that everyone (even criminals) receives “Due Process.” Torah insists that there exist a time for cooling off and level headedness to ensure that justice gets meted out appropriately. No, Torah did not use those words, but Torah does demand that even criminals deserve fair treatment through the trial process.Ok, herein lies the next chapter of Torah meets the real world. This week’s Torah portion speaks of the need to designate six sanctuary cities (Numbers 35:13). No, I am not making this up or reading my interpretation into the text. The text calls for us to designate places for people to go, to protect them from vigilantism. Someone who commits a major offense retreats to a sanctuary city. The residents of the city protect that person until a lawful order comes through seeking his arrest. Sanctuary cities do not break the law. The misperception is that the sanctuary city battles the government to protect criminals. They do not protect hardened criminals or those fleeing the law. Simply, a sanctuary city makes sure that everyone (even criminals) receives “Due Process.” Torah insists that there exist a time for cooling off and level headedness to ensure that justice gets meted out appropriately. No, Torah did not use those words, but Torah does demand that even criminals deserve fair treatment through the trial process.

Since we know that Torah speaks on many levels, we have to make sure to understand that while this “trial” process certainly has literal application, it has a higher, more spiritual application, as well. Each of us transgresses. Each of us transgresses in ways that hurt others.

Tradition teaches us that taking someone’s dignity does greater harm than if we took their physical life. A humiliated person must live in his/her shame and embarrassment. It is no surprise that our tradition uses the paradigm of the sanctuary cities as part of the blue print for atonement.

Sefer HaChinuch (a 13th century commentary on the Torah’s 613 mitzvot) teaches us that many of Torah’s 613 mitzvot can only be observed at certain times. In some cases, the requirements depend on one’s circumstances. If one never finds himself in specific situations, then one can never fulfill certain mitzvot.  Others apply in some cases, but not in all cases, again based on circumstance and situation. There are, however six mitzvot that apply to every person, every day … in fact, every moment. One must accept that there is a power greater than one’s self and accept that this force drives all forces of nature. One must renounce idol worship, while holding love and awe for the power that moves creation. One must also avoid the allure of pleasures rooted in transgressing the natural order that makes all of us equal. Whatever one thinks of God (supernatural force, ultimate natural force, or even greatest human behavioral paradigm), if we are not intentional in our faith, we risk faltering in our ethical and moral behavior. The six cities of refuge symbols for these six ultimate mitzvot.

We need to know that there is a place we can retreat to rethink and re-evaluate our spiritual commitments and engagements. There has to be a “safe” place for us to regroup, and commit to proper celebration of our successes and atonement for our failures. We also have to commit to pursuing justice and allowing it to pursue us, fairly and righteously. There is no righteousness in avoiding the requirements to “face the music,” nor in beating ourselves up unwarrantedly.

The six cities of refuge protect us from the outside forces that would cloud our vision and, also, from our own inability to think clearly. Where we can take a step back and remember to focus on these ever challenging mitzvot, then we can participate in the work of healing the world.  Without this focus, we diminish the likelihood of our ultimate success. In remembering that the world does not revolve around us, we better serve the needs that ensure for all of us, a better world. In the same sense, when we can understand our own personal needs for these places of sanctuary, we can better appreciate this same need for those around us … even those with whose behaviors we cannot abide. Due process is unequivocally, the most important of all mandates for a functioning society, and it must exist for everyone. Shabbat Shalom.