Parshat V’etchanan: Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11; Isaiah 40:1-26.
Before entering the promised land, the Jewish nation encountered trouble. The mighty armies of Sichon and Og were not going to simply allow them safe passage. They would have to fight. Fought they did, and they miraculously conquered their lands east of the Jordan.
Then, Moses designated three cities of refuge for the tribes that settled in those conquered lands to serve as a haven for anyone who killed another unintentionally. As the verse (4:41) in our parshah reads: “Then Moses separated three cities on the side of the Jordan toward the sunrise, so that a murderer might flee there, he who murders his fellow man unintentionally, but did not hate him in time past, that he may flee to one of these cities, and he will live.”
What is the meaning of “and he will live”? The Talmud says we must not only provide a place for the unintentional murderer to flee, but that it must be a place where they can flourish: “These cities should be medium-size towns; they are to be established only in the vicinity of a water supply … they are to be established only where there are marketplaces.” As the verse indicates, we must provide him with arrangements that will enable him to live.
As Maimonides puts it: When a student is exiled to a city of refuge, his teacher is exiled together with him. Implied is that everything necessary for his life must be provided for him. Therefore, a student must be provided with his teacher, for the life of one who possesses knowledge and seeks it, is considered as dead if he cannot study Torah. Indeed, there are individuals for whom life without knowledge of Torah is like life without water — their teachers should move into the city of refuge so that they would be able to “live.” But can we apply this law to all students? Can every student “possess knowledge and seek it” to the extent that a life without Torah is compared to death?
The Talmud’s answer is yes. We look at ourselves or at others, and we sometimes tell ourselves that we are superficial beings, that we care about materialism more than wisdom and spiritual growth. We look at a student making trouble in a classroom and think this child will never be able to understand. This attitude is mistaken. The Talmud is telling us the student making trouble, although he is not yet a “possessor of wisdom,” is, at heart, a “seeker of wisdom.” Deep down, he is a person to whom spiritual wisdom is not just an enjoyable luxury but an absolute necessity.
When we come across someone who we believe is foolish, it is our obligation to see “the seeker of wisdom” within. We must discover and reveal the beauty of a life imbued with wisdom.
Rabbi Bentzion Geisinsky lives in Bloomfield Hills, where he co-directs Chabad of Bingham Farms with his wife, Moussia.