Parshas Shoftim

In this week’s Parsha, we revisit the concept of the ערי מקלט the cities of refuge, to which a person who murders unintentionally could flee.  The Gemara in Makkos explains that there was an obligation to enable the accidental murderer to find these cities easily so, therefore, there were signs on the road.  The Ponovitcher Rov (Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahanaman) asks why we don’t find this command with regard to any other mitzvah.  For example, the Torah commands us to go to Yerushalyim three times a year for the holidays, yet we don’t find any command to put signs on the road indicating where to find Yerushalyim.  He explains that a person naturally is disgusted by a murder.  However, if the murderer needs to speak to people to get directions, this could have an undesirable consequence.  By having a conversation with the murderer, one might determine that he isn’t such a bad person, and could begin to think that causing a person’s death could be acceptable behavior.  To avoid this, the Torah tells us that there must be signs on the road so that people will not have to converse with the murderer yet he would be able to locate the cities of refuge.  In contrast, when people went up to Yerushalyim for the holidays, the situation was the reverse.  This traveler was a person who aspired to grow in love and fear of Hashem.  Therefore, engaging in conversation spread this positive feeling and had very desirable consequences.  There were no signs precisely in order to encourage the travelers to stop to ask people for directions so that they would engage in conversation and inspire people.

We often don’t put enough thought into what influences us, and if these are positive or negative influences.  Even more, we don’t appreciate the impact of a simple conversation or being in a certain place.  The Medrash tells the story of Yosef Meshisa, who conspired with the Romans when they destroyed Yerushalyim.  When the Romans finally came to the Beis Hamikdash, they told him to take whatever he wanted for himself as long as he would enter first.  He went in and brought out the Menorah.  The Romans then told him that this was the one thing he couldn’t take as this was meant for a king.  They told him to go back and take whatever else he would want.  Yosef Meshisa refused to go back in as he said “I angered Hashem once I will not do it again”.  They Romans offered him three years’ worth of tax collection money, but he still refused.  The sefarim explain that just being in the Beis Hamikdash influenced him to serve Hashem.

We should take a moment to reflect on the things that influence our lives, both positive and negative, and recognize that often the smallest occurrence can have a major impact on us.