Parshas Matos-Masei

You Can Be the Next Super-Hero!


“… He shall dwell in it [a City of Refuge] until the death of the Kohain Gadol….” (Bamidbar 35:25)

We can be like this super-hero! We, too, can save lives!

“Cities of Refuge”, orei miklat, were established, by Hashem’s command, in the Land of Israel and across the Jordan river. They afforded protection to one who had killed another person accidently. While there, the killer was protected from any angry relatives of the deceased. He remained there until the death of the Kohain Gadol. Then, he was permitted to return home in safety.

What connection did the Kohain Gadol have to the accidental murderer? The Talmud (Makos 11A) explains that on some level, the Kohain Gadol was indirectly responsible for the accidental death. The Kohain Gadol should have redoubled the intensity of his prayers, pleading for mercy that there not be any unintentional murders as long as he was the Kohain Gadol . On some level, his prayer was lacking some intensity, thus an unintentional murder had occurred.

The Talmud (Makos 11A) compares the Kohain Gadol’s “guilt” to a story that occurred to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi. A man was once killed in a freak occurrence. He was eaten by a lion a few miles from Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s home. The prophet, Eliyahu, had been accustomed to speak to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi. Eliyahu did not speak to him for three days, showing his disapproval. Eliyahu felt that Rabbi Yehoshua should have prayed with more intensity that such an occurrence should never happen near his home. We see that there is a degree of responsibility for the Torah leader to pray for his generation.

A “yeshiva” boy was once hit by a car near Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalayim, on the east side of Manhattan. That was Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l’s yeshiva. Someone ran into the yeshiva to ask Rav Moshe to daven for the boy. Rav Moshe said that it was impossible that this should happen to a Jewish boy, near his yeshiva. Sure enough, it was discovered that the boy was not Jewish. The yarmulka that was found next to him was not his. He had taken it off the head of a Jewish boy.

Rashi (Shmos 21:13) explains what happens based on the following scenario: A man murdered but there were no witnesses. So, he could not be punished by the court. Another man killed unintentionally, but there were no witnesses. So, he did not go to a City of Refuge. Hashem then orchestrated events to bring justice and punish these two murderers. Hashem arranged that they both came to the same inn. The intentional murderer was sitting under a ladder that the unintentional murder was climbing. The unintentional murder fell and killed the murderer. Hashem brought justice and the intentional murderer was killed. Witnesses saw what had happened. Now the unintentional murder was sent to an ir miklat. Hashem arranged that justice be done to both murderers.

The Talmud (Chullin 7B) quotes Rabbi Chanina who says that a person does not injure his finger unless it was decreed in Heaven that it should happen. There is no such a thing as an “accident” since everything that occurs is predetermined and orchestrated by Hashem.

According to this, the Talmud (Makos 11A) is very difficult to understand. How could the Kohain Gadol’s prayer have saved the unintentional murderer from killing? Death had already been decreed on the victim of the accidental killer as well as the man who was eaten by a lion. Hashem even orchestrated events to bring the matter to justice. If so, why was there a grievance against the Kohain Gadol and against Rabbi Yehoshua for not davening as intensely as they could? If the result was already predetermined, even their intense prayers would not have helped!

Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l explains that apparently, a heartfelt prayer can change that which was already predetermined and decreed to occur! It can change Hashem’s decree! The prayers of the Kohain Gadol or Rabbi Yehoshua could have changed what Hashem had already ordained should occur.

Wow, what an amazing power of prayer our great Torah leaders had! This power of prayer is not limited to the Torah leader. When the evil Lavan caught up to Yaakov, after chasing him and his family, Lavan blessed his daughters. The Sforno (Bereishis 32:1) says that this blessing, from the evil Lavan, was effective, because it was said with heartfelt sincerity, with his total being, harnessing the power of his tzelem Elokim, image of Hashem.

Even a rasha has this power of prayer! Certainly, we, too, have this power of prayer! Our supplications can make a difference! Our heartfelt prayers can change the course of history! We can change that which has already been decreed that would happen to us, our loved ones, or to the entire Jewish People!

Let’s harness this super-power! Let’s try to increase our heartfelt and sincere prayers to Hashem,

harnessing our tzelem Elokim! Let’s make a difference in our own lives and in the world!


Based on a dvar Torah by Rabbi Henach Leibowitz zt”l as notated in Pinnacle of Creation by Rabbi Aryeh Striks & Rabbi Shimon Zehnwirth, as well as in Chidushei Lev by Rabbi Binyomin Luban