June 16, 2024
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The Torah tells us to designate arei miklat, cities of refuge, for unintentional murderers (Shemot 21:12-13; Bamidbar 35:9-32). The Arizal reveals that the month of Elul is hinted at in Shemot 21:13 where it says, “Inah l’yado v’samti lach—(God) had caused it to come to His hand; I shall provide you a place.” The first letters of this phrase spell out Elul. Somehow the arei miklat are connected to this period when we are meant to repent and prepare for the Day of Judgment.

An unintentional murder is not the result of an accident beyond one’s control; rather, it is the result of carelessness and negligence. Only an individual who does not appreciate the value of life, whose regard for the importance of life is deficient, could possibly be negligent in a manner that could cause another’s demise.

Rav Yaakov tells us in Pirkei Avot (4:17) that one moment of pleasure in the World to Come is greater than the sum total of all the pleasures in this world. But immediately thereafter, the same Tanna comments that one moment of repentance and good deeds in this world is greater than all the World to Come.

If one views this world as the place where every moment can create eternal, spiritual bliss, and not just as an end in itself, then this world is extremely important, it is the cause and source of Olam Haba. Furthermore, every second of temporal life is invested with infinite and intrinsic value, for it is the seed of eternity.

One who appreciates the supreme value of every moment of temporal life will not be negligent or careless and cause his own or another’s life to be in danger. One who fails to act with the proper regard for human life and causes an unintentional homicide needs to be reeducated and impressed with the value of life. This is the purpose of the arei miklat.

First, he is uprooted from his abode and sent into exile to remind him that he is only transient in this world.

Second, the fact that HaKadosh Baruch Hu wants to protect him, a murderer, from the wrath of the go’el hadam, the victim’s avenger, should force him to reflect how important his life is in God’s eyes.

Third, the arei miklat were the cities of the Levi’im. With the murderer living so close to the Levi’im, whose lives were totally devoted to learning and teaching Torah and serving Hashem, this would put into perspective the true purpose of life.

Last, the murderer was not released until the kohen gadol, the most prominent spiritual life in klal Yisrael, passed away. The eulogies for the kohen gadol demonstrated how exalted a properly lived human life could be.

Additionally, it was an atonement for the kohen gadol, who should have influenced his generation to appreciate life properly so that negligent homicide would not have occurred.

The entire year we are negligent; we do not consider our lives in light of eternity in foolishly committing sins that rob moments of our lives of their intrinsic eternal value. We are, so to speak, guilty of unintentional murder of ourselves. Therefore, HaKadosh Baruch Hu gave us Chodesh Elul as a “time of refuge” in which to regain our perspective on life, to utilize it as a means to generate eternal bliss.

The Arizal says that in the “L’David Hashem Ori” prayer that we recite during Elul, the word “achat” of “achat sha’alti—I ask for one thing” hints to Eretz Yisrael (aleph), the World to Come (chet) and Torah (tav). It is in Eretz Yisrael, “the Land of the Living,” that the purpose of life is for Olam Haba and that purpose can be achieved through Torah observance and Torah study.

May we utilize Elul to prepare for Yomim Noraim by appreciating life through appreciating Torah, Eretz Yisrael and Olam Haba and merit a true shana tova.


Rabbi Zev Leff is the rabbi of Moshav Matityahu, and a renowned author, lecturer and educator. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers .

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