Murder and Sanctuary
In this Parsha the Torah’s way of dealing with the crime of murder raises a number of issues. The exact words of the Torah are as follows: “One who strikes a man, so that he dies, shall surely be put to death. But for one who had not lain in ambush, and
Abarbanel asks the following questions: 1) Why does the Torah use the specific expression, “One who strikes”? Why not say, more generally, “one who kills”? 2) The ability of the murderer to flee to a place of refuge seems to require two conditions: that he had not lain in ambush, and that
Abarbanel answers that the specific example of “striking” comes to teach us that the murderer will be guilty even if the death is not immediate. The only requirement is that the death be the direct result of the murderer’s action. In reference to the second question, he answers that there is no such concept in Judaism as
In answer to the third question, the Torah is telling us that the expression “with guile” does not indicate a more severe level of intent. Rather, even if the murderer does not strike the victim directly, but still intentionally causes his death, he will be held responsible in the same manner. Additionally, the Torah is teaching us that the Altar of the Holy Temple never offers sanctuary to the intentional murderer. Abarbanel points out that in many non-Jewish societies the exact opposite was the case. A murderer could find sanctuary in places of worship for an indefinite period of time. Finally, in reference to the unintentional murderer the Torah demonstrates its compassion in granting such an individual a place of refuge.