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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Why Create a Community of Accidental Killers?

by Adam Cohen (Posted on September 1, 2022)
Topics: Sefer Devarim, Shoftim, Torah

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Someone with a drug addiction has two main options when it comes to rehab, and both are completely different extremes. They could choose normality. I want to keep things as normal as possible, live my every-day life, have my family and friends there to support me and go to a rehab in my local community. 

The other extreme, the other option, is to put their life on hold and go and live in a residential rehab in the middle of nowhere. They cut themselves off from everything and everyone that they know and can then solely focus on this major issue in their life.

And the research shows a marked difference in results from these two opposing approaches. For those people who went to a rehab in their local community, 35% of them stayed clean for five years. This is in contrast with a 47% success rate for people who went to live in the bubble of a residential camp, with some of these rehabs having success rates as high as 60-80 percent. 

One of the major reasons given for this stark difference in results is the type of people you are surrounded by. At the residential camp, you are around like-minded people 24 hours a day, all going through that same issue that you are going through. You can understand and lean on each other, in a way that you just cannot, to the same extent, with family, friends or others in your community.

This week’s parsha introduces the concept of the ‘Arei Miklat’, bizarre communities of on-the-run, accidental killers (Dev. 19:1-8). What is the purpose of creating such a niche concept? Of grouping together a section of society with such an odd common link? 

The Talmud explains that when an accidental killer would arrive at a city of refuge, he could not be honored until he had admitted his past. He had to state, ‘Rotzeach ani’, ‘I am a killer’. If the city’s residents respond, ‘even so’, he can accept the honor. (Masechet Makkot, 12b) This teaches us what the city of refuge was all about. From the moment a person arrived, they were engaging in a process of teshuvah. They were sharing their wrong-doings and felt that this was a safe space to do so. After all, every other person there had gone through the same journey and knew what it was like to stand in their shoes. 

These cities of refuge allowed each of these accidental killers to realize and regret their deed. After all, they were careless and could not be fully absolved of blame. Living in the city of refuge was a respite, a protective haven where the perpetrator lived with others who could relate to their experience and could help them grow from it. So too when we make a mistake, it is important to find others who are experiencing similar challenges. We can then lean on each other for support and drive each other on to achieve spiritual growth and teshuvah.

Shabbat shalom!