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Parshat Matot-Massei (5764)

This week's double section contains the commandment of making cities of refuge.

There are many interesting and complicated details to this law but in short; if someone unintentionally murdered a man, the victim's immediate relatives have the right to take revenge and kill the murderer (if there was negligence involved) unless he can reach a 'city of refuge first'.

Now, today this law is not applicable: Such revenge is forbidden and the cities (although we know which they are) have no special qualities. But according to the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov called Chassidut we can find deep, living importance in this law.

Here is a story to illustrate.

The scene is Czarist Russia in the mid eighteen hundreds.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel, nicknamed The Tzemach Tzedik (third Lubavitcher Rebbe
1789 - 1866) was famous throughout Russia for his all encompassing knowledge of all branches of Torah and for the many open miracles that he performed for the benefit of the Jewish people, especially in the area of deserted wives.

Such a woman once appeared in Lubavitch. Her husband had abandoned her with three children and according to Jewish law she could not remarry until he gave her a proper bill of divorce. But he was nowhere to be found.

For several years she tried in vain to locate him until finally her wanderings brought her to the door of the Tzemach Tzedik as her last hope.
But her hope was dashed; the Rebbe did not give private audiences to women.

Luckily, the Chassidim got wind of the story and had mercy on her. They found a place for her and her children to live and even found her a job in the communal kitchen thinking that perhaps the Rebbe would notice her. But it was as though she was living on a different planet. The Rebbe was a very occupied man, never entered the kitchen and certainly didn't even know she existed. or so it seemed.

Months passed with no breakthrough in sight until one of the Chassidim had an idea and he put it into action.

The Rebbe had many grandsons. The Chassidim befriended one of them and convinced him to go to the Rebbe and ask "What will be with the kitchen-lady?"

It worked; the child entered, asked the question and the next day had the
reply: The Rebbe said to, "Let her wait."

Now there was hope. At least the Rebbe answered. He said she should wait.
So they waited. But nothing happened.

About a month later a well dressed man, for all appearances a non-Jew, came to the Rebbe's house, asked to see the Rebbe privately and was told to wait a moment.

The secretary entered the Rebbe's room, informed him of the new visitor and the Rebbe said to let him in.

The fellow, when he heard that he could enter, stood before the Rebbe's door and prepared himself; he fixed his tie, straightened his suit, smoothed his hair back, stood straight, turned the door knob and stepped in.

But as soon as he saw the Rebbe he let out a moan and fell unconscious on the floor!!

The Rebbe immediately told his Chassidim to bring the kitchen-woman, two witnesses and a scribe. A few moments later the stranger came to, his wife arrived and identified him, he admitted that he was her husband and they all went into a side room wrote the bill of divorce and the story was over.

But the next day he appeared in the Synagogue, asked to put on Tefillin and told a group of the Chassidim the full story.

Several years ago he became impatient with the Jewish way of life and decided to be free. Without telling anyone he simply left home, took a train to a faraway part of Russia where there were no Jews, married a gentile woman and even went so far as to go to the local priest and change his religion.

He went into business and it wasn't long before he began to succeed and became a rich man. The simple townspeople where he lived treated him like a king and he was finally living the ideal life with his past far, far behind.


Then one day as he was returning from his business a shocking thing happened to him. At first he couldn't believe his eyes but then he saw it was really happening. An old Jewish man with a large staff came toward him on the street, stood before him, looked at him menacingly and said in Yiddish "You left a wife and children. It's time you returned and gave a 'get' (bill of
divorce)". And then he turned and walked away.

He was really shaken at first but then thought to himself that maybe it was an illusion. Perhaps some sort of daydream. And put it out of his mind.

But then two days later the same thing happened. As he was walking home from the marketplace the same old man stopped him, said the same thing and again disappeared.

Needless to say he didn't tell anyone about it but it began weighing on his mind and he made a resolution that if it happened again he would ask tthe man where to go. After all it had been years and he had no idea where his wife was.

Sure enough three days later he again met him on the street but this time the old man raised his staff and said, "If you don't give her the 'get' I'm going to split your head with this staff!"

Shaking in fear and almost in tears he yelled out "Don't hit me! Please!
Just tell me where to go! Where is she?" And he answered "Go to Lubavitch."


The whole thing shook him up so much that, although he had never heard of such a town, he just stuffed a wad of money in his pocket, told his wife he was going on a business trip and left.

After several weeks of wandering he finally found some Jews and they told him where Lubavitch is. And after another week he arrived, asked some of the townspeople if there were any Jews in the town and they, assuming that he came to see the Rebbe, directed him there.

"Well, that's what happened." He concluded, "That's why I passed out when I saw him. Because......

It was him! Your Rebbe is the same old man that I saw a thousand miles from here!!

"But that wasn't all" he continued wiping the sweat from his forehead, "After I gave the divorce I began to realize the terrible mistake I had made. I went back in to see the Rebbe and broke down crying. "Rebbe, what will become of me?' And he answered

"Wander from door to door and beg. That is your cure."

They say he spent the rest of his life wandering from town to town telling his story and wherever he went the Chassidim befriended him.

Now we can understand the new meaning of the cities of refuge.

The cities of refuge today mean finding refuge from improper thoughts, speech and actions by developing a Torah attitude toward life.

In our rapidly changing world, ironically only too often people think that change for the better is impossible. They become trapped in false identities, habits and attitudes and loose hope. People are beset with habits, fears, pessimism that kill them spiritually.

So to speak they are guilty of unintentional murder. they kill their own true selves ... like the man in our story.

So it took a 'revenger' . in our story the man with the staff. to chase him to Lubavitch and the Rebbe, in order to find his true self.

So it is with each of us. The teachings and directives of the 'Tzadikim'
especially the Lubavitcher Rebbe today are designed to inspire us to new levels of truth.. And refuge.

And, although the Rebbe doesn't appear before each of us with a staff, his emissaries are spread throughout the world in thousands of Chabad Houses bringing people to 'cities of Torah refuge' (and inspiring gentiles to the seven Noahide commandments).

This is the work of Moshiach. Soon the entire world will be a one huge City of Refuge; filled with the Oneness of the Creator with all mankind living out their true identities, in a Joyous and happy way with ..

Moshiach NOW!

Source of Story: (Perlov, Tzemach Tzedik # 36)

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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