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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Yonah Burr

Va'eschanan: A Living Lesson from the Cities of Refuge

אז יבדיל משה שלש ערים בעבר הירדן מזרחה שמש...וזאת התורה אשר שם משה לפני בני ישראל

דברים ד:מא,מד

Then, Moshe separated three cities on the eastern side of the Jordan. And this is the Torah that Moshe placed before the children of Israel.

Moshe Rabbeinu was devoting the last few days of his life to teaching the Jewish People everything he could. He warned them of the consequences of not following in Hashem’s ways, reminded them of the intense revelation that they saw with their own two eyes at Har Sinai, and pointed out to them that no other nation had ever experienced anything like this before, and how special they are to Hashem.

Seemingly, in the middle of all of this, Moshe suddenly interrupts his lesson, and separates the cities of refuge! Not only does it seem out of place, the Torah actually emphasizes that Moshe specifically did it then -- 'אז'!

What is the connection?

Furthermore, after the digression to discuss the function of the cities of refuge, the Torah summarizes everything with וזאת התורה אשר שם משה ‘and this is the Torah that Moshe placed before the people’, as if this interruption was somehow part of the lesson!

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l explains this beautifully.

The Gemara tells us that Moshe realized that his three cities of refuge on the eastern side of the river would not be activated during his lifetime. Only after the people conquered and divided the remaining land on the western side and completed the requisite six cities, would any of the cities actually offer refuge. Nevertheless, Moshe hurried to do his part, out of the sheer love of Hashem and the performance of His mitzvos. The Gemara cites the parable, ‘one who loves silver will never be satiated with silver’, meaning that he will always be seeking more. Likewise, one who loves mitzvos will never rest on his laurels, but will always be looking to do more and more.

Says Rav Moshe zt”l, this itself was the lesson of the cities! Moshe was demonstrating to the people how one should perform mitzvos, and what our attitude towards Yiddishkeit should be. Do as much as you can out of love! Even if you won’t be able to finish the project in your lifetime, start anyway! Even if we think our contribution is minimal, that what can our effort possibly accomplish, do it anyway out of love! Hashem cherishes the effort and feeling we put into it, and does not judge our actions by what they accomplish. After this lesson and ‘hands-on demonstration’, the Torah fittingly concludes: ‘and this is the Torah that Moshe placed before the people’ this is the Torah, and how we should fulfill it!

May we merit to reach these levels, and have the Beis Hamikdash rebuilt speedily in our day!

Have a wonderful Shabbos!

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