Torah For The Times    

Parshat Mattot - Mass'ei 
Torah Reading: Mattot - Mass'ei (Numbers 30:2 - 36:13)
Haftorah: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 4:1-2  

Shabbat Candle Lighting: 8:12 PM 
Shabbat ends: 9:20 PM     

Accidents Happen? 

One of the most heinous crimes that anyone can commit is murder. So degrading and reprehensible is this crime that even when it is done unintentionally (but with a small degree of negligence) the Torah assigns a most unique form of punishment to the perpetrator. 

The unintentional murderer must flee to one of a number of specially designated "Cities of Refuge." These cities served a number of purposes. One purpose of the City of Refuge was to protect the murderer from the wrath of the victim's relatives.
Another purpose of forcing the murderer to remain in the City of Refuge was to give him time to reflect on his act. Only a person whose soul has been severely desensitized to the value of human life can be so callous as to bring about (even through negligence) another person's untimely death. The time in the City of Refuge offered him the ability to rehabilitate himself.
The obvious question can be asked: how much time in necessary for the murderer to rehabilitate himself? When can we assume that he has repented and that his sin has been atoned? This week's Parshah of Massei provides us with an unusual answer: the murderer must stay within the confines of the City of Refuge until "the death of the Kohein Gadol, the High Priest."
What is the connection between the death of the High Priest and the completion of the murderer's atonement? After all, the High Priest might live only a short while after the arrival of the negligent murderer, apparently without affording the murderer enough time to do the proper amount of soul-searching. Conversely, the High Priest may live for many scores of years, forcing the murderer to spend a large portion of his life in the City of Refuge, though he may have successfully repented for his crime many years before the High Priest's demise.
Rashi tells us that the function of a High Priest is to introduce holiness into people's lives. By doing so, the High Priest brings many blessings into their lives, including the greatest of all blessings: long life. Thus, Rashi says, it is incongruous to have a murderer, who shortened someone's life, co-exist freely with the High Priest whose function is to prolong life. Therefore, as long as the High Priest lives, the murderer must stay in exile.
To better understand the relationship (or lack of one) between the High Priest and the unintentional murderer, let us focus on the Temple in Jerusalem for a moment - the place where the High Priest did his service to G‑d and the place whose destruction we mourn during this time.
The Temple was not a shrine or edifice similar to those that other religions have. Clearly, G‑d is everywhere and can be accessed by anyone at any time. The Temple was a special place chosen by G‑d through which His presence could be felt everywhere. The Temple had to overcome the physical barriers that sometimes eclipse G‑d's presence and make Him more felt in the world.
After the Temple removed that barrier, G‑d's presence was then channeled to the rest of the world through the City of Jerusalem, then the Land of Israel, and then to the entire world. The Temple did not have an "exclusive" on accessing G‑d, it guaranteed that everyone had that opportunity.
True, the Temple made G‑d very relevant in people's lives, but it did not remove free choice. Even in those special times when the Temple stood, people still transgressed G‑d's will. As strongly as G‑d was felt during the times of the Temple and as positive as the energy was, one still had the ability to rebel.
One might even argue that the Temple's major effect on people was in their ability to avoid inadvertent transgressions. We have just established that a rebellious person will go against G‑d's will no matter how strong the spirit of holiness may be in his environment. But when it came to accidentally sinning, the Temple so saturated a person's world with an awareness of G‑d that it was impossible to matter-of-factly forget G‑d's rules and transgress them. Thus, the Temple's presence did not prevent willful violation of the Torah, but it did provide a strong protection against actions that derive from a lack of sensitivity.
This, then, is why the Torah contrasted the High Priest’s role with that of the accidental murderer. The High Priest was responsible for maintaining a lofty state of G‑dly awareness. The unintentional murderer, whose callous act showed the grossest level of insensitivity to the holiness of life, was clearly not "connected" with the High Priest - he had divorced himself from the spiritual nourishment that the High Priest offered to the rest of the people. Therefore, the Torah said he must stay in exile until the end of the High Priest's life - making sure that this person would not be at large within the Jewish population until a new High Priest would hopefully - finally - be able to reconnect him with his spiritual senses.  

Moshiach Matters

There is an opinion in the Talmud (Taanit 17) that even in our days, after the Destruction of the Holy Temple, a Kohen (priest) is forbidden to drink wine, since it is probable that "the Holy Temple will be speedily rebuilt," finding him under the influence of wine, and hence disqualified from serving