Due to the eighth day of Pesach falling out on Shabbos, Eretz Yisrael and CHU"L have been one parsha off for a few months. This week we have finally caught up! This week in CHU"L, they will be reading a double parsha of Matos-Masei. Click here for a Dvar Torah for Parshas Mattos.
Over the past several parshiyos, the Torah has discussed several times the land inheritance for the different tribes in Eretz Yisrael. The end of Sefer Bamidbar finds Bnei Yisrael on the edge of entering the Land, so Parshas Masei continues this trend and continues to provide details on future life in Eretz Yisrael. This week, we learn that even though the tribe of Levi had no portion in Eretz Yisrael, they were given 42 cities scattered throughout the country in which to live. (See Bamidbar 35:1-8.) What, if any, is the significance to this number 42?
Parshas Masei also introduces to us a concept that will be discussed several times in Tanach, the Arei Miklat, the Cities of Refuge. An Ir Miklat was used when a person would accidentally murder another person, and it was proven in court to be truly an accident, they had to go live in one of these six cities. They couldn’t set foot outside the city for any reason, and had to stay there until the current Kohen Gadol passed away. These six cities were also officially under the auspices of Shevet Levi, bringing their total number of cities to 48. Why was Shevet Levi in charge of these cities?
The Kli Yakar answers both of these questions. First, Parshas Masei begins with a listing of all the places the Bnei Yisrael camped during their 40 years in the desert. The total number of these encampments was 42. In each one of the 42, the Bnei Yisrael could never settle and make themselves comfortable. They knew that they weren’t meant to stay where they camped since they were on the way to Eretz Yisrael. Furthermore, they never knew exactly how long they would stay in any particular place, it could have been a day or a year or more; so they could never truly feel comfortable wherever they were. The amount of cities given to Shevet Levi corresponds to this number.
Secondly, the idea of placing someone in exile is to make them uncomfortable, to place them in unfamiliar surroundings. This is the punishment given to the accidental killer.
Shevet Levi, while given 42 cities to settle in, had no real portion in Eretz Yisrael. These cities were scattered all over the country so they didn’t necessarily live near each other. Plus, they were required to spend time in the Beis Hamikdash each year and were the ones responsible for the dissemination of Torah throughout Bnei Yisrael. So between both of these things, they didn’t have a lot of money, land, or room to expand; they were essentially strangers in their own land. (Why this was the lot of the Leviim is a different discussion.) This is why the Arei Miklat were run by Shevet Levi.
We are commanded several times in the Torah to be sensitive, kind, and understanding of גרים, usually translated as converts, but really means “strangers”, meaning anyone who finds themselves in an unfamiliar environment, far from where they call home. Who better to run these cities that are built specifically to make people uncomfortable then the Leviim, the ones who can be the most understanding of their situation. And in order to remind the Leviim of their extra responsibility, they were given the same amount of cities, 42, as there were stops on their sojourning on the way to their homeland.
Next week, we begin Sefer Devarim, in which Bnei Yisrael prepare to enter Eretz Yisrael, the land they have dreamed of since their ancestors came to Mitzrayim. But before they do, Hashem wants them to capture that feeling of the desert, that they should remember the feeling of unsettledness, and remember to always be sensitive to that issue.
Chazak Chazak V’Nischazek!
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