Parsha Massei

Blood Letting


The last chapters of the book of Bamidbar culminate in the final preparations to invade Canaan. They deal with demarcating the territory the Israelites will claim and allocating the land between the tribes. But the reading begins with blood and ends with blood. It starts with the destruction of the Midianites and makes very uncomfortable reading. It ends with the rules about cities of refuge where accidental murderers can flee for protection from the bloodletting of vendetta revenge slaying.

The sequence goes like this. To cleanse the land of corrupt, dangerous people whose culture is one of cruelty, immorality and paganism Israel had to resort to violence or perish itself. That was how things were done three and a half thousand years ago. Even now as we live, this principle of conquest is happening around the globe despite all the conventions and treaties and noble sentiments at the UN.

But once the state has been established one must turn to its inner health and sanctity. Even if killing is sanctioned by the state to protect the state, we should guard against thinking that that is the norm, the natural state of things. So, to heighten sensitivity the law has not only to deal with murder but also with manslaughter and accidental death. That is why the Torah reiterates the notion that in one’s territory one must have in place a system to deal with violence and places of refuge and sanctuary. Whatever else they are a constant reminder of the dangers of violence.

King Solomon said there is a time for everything, for war and for peace. But one must be constantly on guard against letting violence get out of hand or become ‘normal.’