The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
by Rav Itamar Eldar
Yeshivat Har Etzion
shiur is dedicated in memory of Dr. William Major z"l.
DOES HE INSTRUCT SINS IN THE WAY (TEHILLIM
Rav Itamar Eldar
we read about the laws that govern a person who committed inadvertent
manslaughter, and learn about the cities of refuge that are set aside for his
protection before and after his trial:
Speak to the
children of Israel, and say to them, When you come over the Jordan into the
land of Canaan; then you shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for
you; that the slayer who kills any person unawares may flee thereto. And they
shall be to you cities for refuge from the avenger; that the manslayer die not,
until he stand before the congregation in judgment
Then the congregation shall
judge between the slayer and the revenger of blood
according to these judgments: and the congregation shall deliver the slayer out
of the hand of the revenger of blood, and the
congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he has fled:
and he shall abide in it until the death of the High Priest, who was anointed
with the holy oil. (Bamidbar 35:10-25)
biblical commentators already discussed the spiritual state of a person who
committed inadvertent manslaughter in the first place where the Torah relates
to such a case:
He that smites
a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.
And if a man did not lie in wait, but God allowed it to happen to him, then I
will appoint you a place to which he shall flee. (Shemot
Rashi cites from the Midrash as
allowed it to happen to him" But why should this go forth from Him? This
is just what David tells us: "As says the proverb of the ancient
'Wickedness proceeds from the wicked' (I Shemuel
the continuation, Rashi offers an explanation of this
ancient proverb, but according to its plain sense, the proverb is trying to
deal with the pungent expression, "But God allowed it to happen to
him." For if the Torah itself "accuses" God of murder, or at least of causing it to happen through the
inadvertent killer, why should the latter be punished? The Midrash
offers an answer: "Wickedness proceeds from the wicked." That is to
say, that it was not by chance that God arranged that this particular person
should commit inadvertent manslaughter, for he deserved to have been placed in
that position on account of his previous conduct, actions, and the like. This is also how the matter is understood by the Rebbe of Cracow, the author of the Ma'or
The idea is
that when a person commits an inadvertent transgression, and certainly a severe
transgression like manslaughter, though he acted inadvertently, nevertheless
the blemish is exceedingly great. This only happened to him because he had
committed transgressions from the outset, and did not set his heart to repent
from them. Therefore one transgression led to another transgression, until this
great transgression, namely manslaughter, came to his hands. As our Rabbis of
blessed memory explained in tractate Makkot
regarding the verse, "But God allowed it to happen to him": "As
says the proverb of the ancient 'Wickedness proceeds from the wicked.'" (Ma'or va-Shemesh, Masei)
direction taken by both Chazal and the Ma'or va-Shemesh is
to examine the past of the inadvertent killer and reveal that he is not an
innocent lamb, who by chance, fell into this situation of inadvertent
manslaughter. God directs His providence in such a manner that one who has
sinned encounters other sins against his will, in the manner of "A person
is led along the path that he wishes to follow."
though we are dealing here with the specific and severe transgression of
manslaughter, this solution seems to cast light on the entire concept of
inadvertent sin, the argument being that inadvertent sin gives expression to a
spiritual and practical blemish. Thus, it should not be seen as a one-time,
accidental event, which does not teach about and reflect the spiritual
personality of the sinner. If a person inadvertently desecrates Shabbat,
it falls upon him to examine his actions and ask himself why it is that God
allowed this sin to happen to him.
Emet goes off in an entirely different direction
in his attempt to deal with the problem of the punishment of the inadvertent
killer. He says as follows:
In the Midrash regarding cities of refuge: "Good and upright is
the Lord: therefore does He instruct chataim
in the way (Tehillim 25:8)." The Gemara infers from the verse: "The chataim
will be consumed out of the earth" (Tehillim
104:35) chotim ("sinners")
is not written, but rather chataim
("sins"). This verse should be read in a similar manner:
"Therefore does He instruct sins in the way." For
sin leaves an impression, as the Sages of blessed memory have said that every
sin gives rise to a destructive force (mashchit).
This teaches that the punishment for sin comes not only for having rebelled
against God, for the sin itself gives rise to a destructive force. Therefore,
even an inadvertent sinner requires repair, and this is by way of exile. As my
revered grandfather of blessed memory said about what it says that Betzer is a city of refuge when he is in narrow straits (kebetzar). For God, blessed be He, provided cities
of refuge for one who knows that he has no place because a great sin like this
of killing a person befell him. This itself gives him a place, for God, blessed
be He, provides a place for someone who lacks it. But when a person relies on
such a place, he is not given it, etc. We see then that a person's primary
place is knowing that he has no place. This itself is a repair of the sin; in accordance with his regret
before God and his inability to find a place, so too his sin and the
destructive force find no place, and God, blessed be He, gives a place to all
of them. This is: "Therefore does He instruct sins, etc." And in the
book Tomer Devora
of Rav Moshe Cordevero,
he writes that this is a great act of lovingkindness
on the part of God, blessed be He, that he gives a
place to the destructive force that arises out of a person's sin." (Sefat Emet, Masei 5634)
Sefat Emet opens
with an important distinction made in a different context.
R. Meir's hooligan neighbors disturbed his rest, he wanted to curse them, but
his wife Beruriya directed his attention to the
verse: "The chataim will be
consumed out of the earth" (Tehillim
104:35), noting that the verse refers to chataim
("sins"), rather than chotim ("sinners").
Therefore, one ought to pray for the removal of sin from the world, but not for
the removal of the sinners. In other words, Beruriya
reproached her husband, saying: Why do you pray for the death of these sinners,
rather than for their full repentance?
distinction between sin and sinner, in the context of the incident involving Beruriya and R. Meir, benefits the sinner, for it
establishes that sin and sinner are not identical, or in other words, it is not
the sinner, but rather his sins that constitute the evil. Thus, the road of
repentance lies before the sinner, and from the moment that he desists from his
actions, his sins will be consumed, and he will cease to be called a sinner.
This is the most wonderful opening to repentance, that a person is defined
according to his actions, and therefore his actions draw him close and his
actions set him apart.
Sefat Emet makes
use of the same distinction, but he deepens it. And it is this deepening that
gives rise this time to a great stringency regarding the sinner, one that is
sharply revealed with respect to the inadvertent sinner.
we have seen, both Chazal and the Me'or va-Shemesh
try to explain the exile to the city of refuge imposed upon the inadvertent
sinner, despite the fact that his offense was unintended, with the assumption
that this inadvertence is itself a sort of punishment for the killer's previous
Sefat Emet goes
off in a different direction. The inadvertent sinner does not have "a
criminal record," and the inadvertence is total. However, the distinction
between intentional and unintentional sin relates to the two-fold nature of
sin. One level may be designated as the level of discipline. The intentional
sinner rebels against God, breaks His word, and disobeys His command. The
punishment for such behavior is a sanction imposed on him "who has
rebelled against God," as the Sefat Emet puts it. This level relates not to the sin itself,
but to the sinner. It is the person who sins when he rebels against God, and he
is punished for this rebellion.
second level is the ontological level. On this level, the Sefat
Emet sets the sinner aside and deals with the sin
itself. Sin, asserts the Sefat Emet, has real substance, and therefore, one who sins
gives rise to a destructive force, as the Sefat
Emet puts it.
according to this understanding, creates a real dynamic and occurrence in the
world. Sin gives rise to a certain atmosphere that is born out of the act,
but from the moment that it exists in the world, it itself gives rise to
actions of its own. A group of scoffers who assemble together create an
atmosphere and give rise to a dynamic, but from the moment that these are created,
they themselves influence the group, vitalize it, and serve as a source of
inspiration even for those who have just joined the group.
level relates to the sin and what results from it, the "destructive
force" that comes into the world as a result of the sin. Thus, this level
does not relate to the sinner, but to the objective world that is sullied by
the birth of the sin and its entry into the world.
Sefat Emet goes
one step further than Beruriya and says that
the prayer, "Let the sins be consumed," does not seek that the sinner
should cease performing his sinful acts, but rather that the "destructive
forces" the negative energy that comes into the world in the aftermath
of the sin itself - should be destroyed.
level does not relate to the sinner, and therefore the question of intention is
irrelevant. The question whether the creation of the "destructive
force" is intentional or unintentional has no ramifications regarding the
need to destroy the force that was created. From this perspective, even the
inadvertent sinner requires great repair, and the question of intention has no
impact on the need to deal with the existential implications of the sin.
IS HIS INHERITANCE"
sinner, then, requires repair, both he and his sin, and even the destructive
force arising from that sin. All these are repaired through the sinner's exile
to a city of refuge. Here we come to the Sefat
Emet's great novelty: "For God, blessed be
He, provided cities of refuge for one who knows that he has no place because a
great sin like this of killing a person befell him."
inadvertent sinner loses his place, as the Sefat
Emet writes also in a different teaching:
Regarding the verse: "The child is not, and where shall I
go?" (Bereishit 37:30). We find
that Reuven opened first with repentance. And therefore the prophet Hoshea who descended from Re'uven
also opened with repentance. For this is perfect repentance which finds no
place or existence in the world alongside sin. (Sefat
are dealing with a psychological experience that drives the repentance process
the feeling of a loss of place.
order to understand this process, let us begin with the inadvertent sinner, and
then move on to all sinners, as is implied by the Sefat
Emet in Parashat
Vayeshev, which is not necessarily talking about
an inadvertent killer.
who inadvertently commits a sin, and certainly the sin of manslaughter, enters
into an undefined category. On the one hand, he is not a murderer, and he
doesn't belong in jail with premeditated killers. On the other hand, he cannot
get up in the morning as does any other person, as if nothing has happened.
Something happened because of him, an injustice was performed in the world, a destructive force came into being. How then can he
continue with his ordinary routine? Where does he
belong? Is his place among the righteous who have never sinned, or perhaps he
belongs in the company of those who have sinned against God and made Him angry?
a person experiences detachment, an absence of place, a lack of belonging. The
sin that God allowed to happen through him turned him into a person who has no
place, no definition, and no belonging he has lost his resting place and his
inheritance. The Sefat Emet
teaches us that when this person loses his inheritance, in a certain sense
he gets to sit in the company of others who also lack an inheritance the
Levites. And just as they, in the absence of an inheritance, merit a different
type of inheritance, in the sense of God being their inheritance, so too such a
person whose sin has caused him to lose his place and his inheritance, merits
that God should be his inheritance.
A city of
refuge is the habitation of those who are homeless, who cannot properly be
catalogued. It is the place of those in search of an inheritance, after a
terrible sin had ousted them from their land and their clear, stable, and
In the wider
sense, this is true regarding every sinner and ever transgressor, when he wakes
up from the stupor of sin. He contemplates his sin, the new situation in which
he finds himself following his sin, the atmosphere surrounding him, and all
those destructive force that surround him and stand him up at this time,
against his will - even if just a short moment ago, he intentionally cooperated
with them - in a world with which he does not identify, and in which he does
not feel at ease, a world from which he is estranged and alienated. He lacks a
place and has no identity.
Am I that
person? Are those garments that I have been wearing in the aftermath of may actions really my garments? Where am I?,
he asks himself, searching for an outstretched hand and a place.
The Sefat Emet asserts
that just as sin creates a reality and a place in which a person dwells, so the
feeling of a lack of place, a lack of belonging, the loss of one's home, are
actualized in the form of a place, namely, the city of refuge: "A person's
primary place is knowing that he has no place."
of sin, teaches us the Sefat Emet, is an experience of loss of place, and it is
precisely this detachment that stands a person before God God being his
inheritance. The experience of being uprooted, of being severed from the well
of living waters, and of being afraid that "anyone that finds me shall
slay me" (Bereishit 4:14), stand a
person up against God, as one who shelters himself in His shadow, for he has no
other haven: "For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord
will take me in" (Tehillim 27:10).
A person who
sins becomes alienated from his surroundings, from his friends and family. All
he has is his Father in heaven who gathers him in and receives him with lovingkindness. However, the condition for taking shelter
under the wings of the Shekhina, is readiness to waive all other places and absolutely
devote himself to the experience of the absence of place.
of repentance is the loss of one's way, the powerlessness, the almost despair.
Any tiny gnawing at this total experience prevent a person from taking shelter
in God's shadow, from reaching the city of refuge, as the Sefat
Emet hints in our passage and as he states
explicitly in a teaching in Parashat Vayeshev:
the difference between them. For in truth a repentant sinner who knows that
because of his sin he has no place God, blessed be He, gives him a place, as
it is stated: "Then I will appoint you a place to which he shall
flee" (Shemot 21:13). This is Betzer that was given to repentant sinners. But if he
relies on this it is called Betzara, for he relies on
this place and then it does not provide refuge at all. (ibid.)
from the outset and being aware of this knowledge that God is our inheritance,
and that in the end He will gather us in under His wings, impair the experience
of detachment, and prevent a person from dedicating himself to wandering and
being prepared to march off into exile.
is necessary to "forget," as it were, the knowledge that God will
gather us in, so that we should totally lose the stability under our feet, and
sin should totally undermine our place. Only then will we merit to be gathered
in to the inheritance of God and will God's place become our place.
DOES HE INSTRUCT SINS IN THE WAY"
Sefat Emet wants
to follow the path of Beruriya and read chataim, and not chotim.
But here the verse is "Therefore does He instruct chataim
in the way." Not the sinners, or at least, not only the sinners
require guidance to the right way, but also the sins themselves, the world that
comes into being in the wake of sin, need guidance to the city of refuge. The
city of refuge becomes the dwelling place not only of the sinners, but also of
the destructive forces created by the sins: "This itself is a repair of
the sin; in accordance with his regret before God and his inability to find a
place, so too his sin and the destructive force find no place, and God, blessed
be He, gives a place to all of them. This is: 'Therefore does He instruct sins,
the destructive force, the negative energies that came into being in the wake
of the sin, the atmosphere that arose around the sinner and the sin all these
need a home, a place, an inheritance. Their entire reality comes from their
being connected to a place, a house, a person, a community. An atmosphere of
scoffers requires a seat, and when the seat becomes scattered, the atmosphere
becomes scattered as well. The sin and the destructive force arising from it
need the sinner, his habitation, and his routine lifestyle in order to apply,
to operate within them, to receive a garment and tools of influence.
sinner lacks a place, when he wanders from place to place, when he is uprooted,
when he does not get up the morning after the sin as on any other day, when he
does not continue his routine life, then neither does the destructive force
find a place to hold fast to, and it too lacks a place. It does not become part
of the world, because it itself brought the person to become cut off from the
world, and the person's detachment from the world becomes the sin's detachment.
return to the world will of necessity bring the destructive force to dwell in
it as well, to operate within it and to blemish it. However, when a person is
detached, when he is cut off from the world, when he has no place in the world,
then also the destructive force does not find its place, and it has no way or
ability to influence the world.
The feeling of
detachment in the wake of sin, teaches us the Sefat
Emet, is necessary in order to bring about the
destruction of the destructive force and the dissolution of the atmosphere that
arose in the aftermath of the sin. Immediate return to the regular course of
life would perhaps allow a person to forget his sin, and return to the good
path, but he and the world in the midst of which he lives would always carry
with them the destructive force born in the wake of the sin, the excessive load
that is cast upon his shoulders following the sin.
It is possible
to ignore the negative energies, the atmosphere that I have created in the wake
of my sin, but they can only be cancelled and destroyed when they are brought
to the inheritance of God, to the place where they stand together with me
before God in the city of refuge.
return to normal routine may perhaps repair the person, the sinner, for it
involves total severance from the sin; I am no longer a part of it, and it is no
longer a part of me. However, it does not repair the sin itself and the
reality that has arisen in its wake. For that, it must remain a part of us, we
must not cut ourselves off from it so quickly, we must feel its burden on our
shoulders, and sense that this burden turns us into people without a home and
without a place. Then God will gather us in to Him, us together with our sins -
"and God, blessed be He, gives a place to all of them. This is: 'Therefore
does He instruct sins in the way.'"
These words contain important
guidance regarding the path of repentance. Often a person stumbles in sins,
sometimes unintentionally and sometimes intentionally. The instinctive wish is
oftentimes to return to routine and forget the sin this being the greatest repentance
of all - to cut oneself off from the sin and to return to life. A person's
ability to do this is based on the faith and the knowledge that God is his
inheritance, that His gates are open to repentant sinners, and that His hands
are stretched out to those who regret and repent from their sins.
the Sefat Emet,
however, this involves a concession. Sin created certain circumstances and
these circumstances will accompany the person even if he returns to the routine
of his life, and precisely if he does so. Because that very atmosphere, that
all-embracing feeling that accompanies a person who has sinned, becomes
assimilated into his daily routine, dons garments within it, and sows its
poisonous seeds, which one day will send forth roots that bear gall and
the Sefat Emet,
the sinner must experience the feeling of "where are you?" Where am I
in the world?
He must feel
as Kayin did that "anyone that finds me shall
slay me." I left the warm and protective bosom of purity and holiness, and
I was cast out, against my will through inadvertence or by choice through
intention, to a different place, in which I do not wish to dwell, where I do
not find my place, where I cannot build my home. And I am searching for a place,
I am searching for a home, I know not how I will return to my life, after I
have fallen in this sin. Who will receive me? Who will be prepared to forget my
sins, to ignore them, to accept me as new? And the destructive force that is
merely looking for a place to dwell, the transient sin that is looking for a
permanent home, that wishes to get used to the routine of that sinner who
stumbled for a moment, that wishes to turn the sin, the feelings, and the
energies that arose from it into the person's lot and an inseparable part of
his personality, that very destructive force waits for that place that will
allow him to actualize all of these, to build and to be built - but in vain!
The person is detached and cast off, and with him the sin and whatever it has led
to are also homeless, lacking attachment, together with the sinner.
The Sefat Emet teaches
us that this "no place," this great space that has been created, this
empty vessel that has become totally dry this is the new place of that
sinner, God being his inheritance.
Out of the
tempest, out of the powerlessness, out of the lost way, he seeks for himself
the city of refuge, he seeks a secure place, a place that will accept, contain,
allow; and only God, in His lovingkindness, is ready
to allow all of this to that sinner God is his inheritance.
And then to
the inheritance of God come also the sin, and the feeling, and the energy. All
are gathered under the wings of the Shekhina,
and become effaced in its light, and absorb its splendor. There is no more sin,
and no more atmosphere, and no more negative energy.
The light of repentance fills the person and allows him to build his home anew,
little by little, brick by brick. In cleanliness, in renewal, without excessive
and previous baggage - "Good and upright is the Lord: therefore does He
instruct sins in the way."
 The Radak
offers a similar explanation in his commentary to this verse in the book of Shemuel (24:14): "And our Rabbis of
blessed memory have explained: 'The proverb of the ancient' the proverb of
the Ancient One of the universe, the Holy One, blessed be He. This is what the
Torah says: 'But God allowed it to happen to him,' that is, he deserved to die,
but good things are brought about through the agency of good people, and bad
things are brought about through the agency of bad people."
 As is well known, a
sin-offering is brought only for inadvertent sins, but not for intentional
 It seems that it could be
said in general that when a person prays for the death of another Jew, no
matter how wicked that other Jew is, he must ask himself whether he is
motivated by the pure desire to improve the world or by anger and pride. It is
not by chance that the Anshei Keneset ha-Gedola searched
high and low before they found somebody who was fit to compose the "May
the slanderers have no hope" blessing, which contains a prayer for the
destruction of the wicked. They finally found Shemuel
ha-Katan, who was known for his statement:
"Rejoice not when your enemy falls" (Avot
4:19). Only he was fit to compose that unique and exceptional blessing.
 See also Degel
Machane Ephrayim, Vaera, s.v. kaved: "
And from this sin there arose a
destructive force and from that the plague of blood came upon him." And
similar statements in many passages of Chassidic and kabbalistic
 In kabbalistic-Chassidic
terms, we can talk about a mashchit, destructive
forces, mischievous angels, and the like. In the spirit of the East, we can talk
about negative energies that operate in the world and surround us.
 In the case of inadvertent
manslaughter, there is the objective level on which one person comes to harm
because of another person, but even where there is no tangible injury to another
party, e.g., where a person inadvertently turns on a light on Shabbat,
we can still talk about an intermediate position, between an intentional Shabbat
desecrator and one whose Shabbat is clean of all sin and transgression.
 In great measure, we can
explain in this manner the question posed to Adam in the wake of his sin,
"Where are you," he not knowing now where he was. And in great
measure, we can interpret in the same way Kayin's
wanderings, he having lost his place and being forced to wander to and fro
across the earth.
 Therefore, on the halakhic plane, he who relies on a city of refuge may not
derive benefit from it.
 Many who have dealt with
repentance describe it as a process of severance from sin, and thus there is no
need for atonement, because the sinner has already disassociated himself from
his sin and is no longer connected to it.
(Translated by David Strauss)