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Va'eschanan Question 2

Weekly Parsha Questions

Va'eschanan Question 2

Yechiel Shaffer

Following the narrative of Moshe’s unsuccessful pleas to enter the land of Israel, he sternly warns the Jewish people to safeguard the Torah  (Deuteronomy Chapter 4:1 – 40) and all of its commandments:

דברים פרשת ואתחנן פרק ד

א) ועתה ישראל שמע אל־החקים ואל־המשפטים אשר אנכי מלמד אתכם לעשות למען תחיו ובאתם וירשתם את־הארץ אשר יקוק אלהי אבתיכם נתן לכם

1. And now, O Israel, hearken to the statutes and to the judgments which I teach you to do, in order that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord, God of your forefathers, is giving you.

ו) ושמרתם ועשיתם כי הוא חכמתכם ובינתכם לעיני העמים אשר ישמעון את כל־החקים האלה ואמרו רק עם־חכם ונבון הגוי הגדול הזה

6. And you shall keep [them] and do [them], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the eyes of the peoples, who will hear all these statutes and say, “Only this great nation is a wise and understanding people. “

The chapter continues to offer stern warning to the Jewish people. In a foreboding manner, Moshe tells of a time, after his passing, that the Jews will be exiled and will have to work desperately to return to the good favor of God.

In concluding this stern warning we are told of the following:

דברים פרשת ואתחנן פרק ד

מ) ושמרת את־חקיו ואת־מצותיו אשר אנכי מצוך היום אשר ייטב לך ולבניך אחריך ולמען תאריך ימים על־האדמה אשר יקוק אלהיך נתן לך כל־הימים

40. And you shall observe His statutes and His commandments, which I command you this day, that it may be well with you and your children after you, and that you may prolong your days upon the earth which the Lord your God gives you forever.

Immediately following this strong advice, we are informed that Moshe does the following:

מא) אז יבדיל משה שלש ערים בעבר הירדן מזרחה שמש

41. Then Moses decided to separate three cities on the side of the Jordan towards the sunrise,

מב) לנס שמה רוצח אשר ירצח את־רעהו בבלי־דעת והוא לא־שנא לו מתמל שלשם ונס אל־אחת מן־הערים האל וחי

42. so that a murderer might flee there, he who murders his fellow man unintentionally, but did not hate him in time past, that he may flee to one of these cities, so that he might live.

Why does Moshe follow his lengthy and stern warning to observes God’s commandments with the establishment of cities of refuge? Who were the cities set up for? How does this acknowledgement of mistake frame Moshe’s prior stern warnings?