Twice in this week’s Torah portion, we see a sensitivity to the feelings of folks. The first happens when we are taught to set aside the “Aray Miklat” designated cities where an accidental murderer finds safe refuge.
Torah demands accountability and responsibility. There is no such concept of “oops, I didn’t mean to do that…” If a person does an action that kills a person…even accidentally (the example given is he is chopping wood and the top of his axe disconnects and flies off and hits someone and kills someone)…then the accidental murderer is not let off with no repercussions. Human life is too precious to allow for negligence and carelessness. Therefore, the accidental murderer is not allowed to continue to reside in general society. He or she must find refuge in specially-designated cities.
And here is where something fascinating comes in. We, as a nation, are commanded to make sure that the cities are easily accessible. That there be signage that is clear, put in place in noticeable locales, so that the person who is fleeing doesn’t have to stop to ask directions of anyone. As King David in Tehillim writes, G-d is so kind, He makes sure to “al kayn yoreh chata’im ba’derech” to point the way even for those who mess up. If the signs wouldn’t be there, the poor killer would have to ask directions — and those of whom he asked directions would know his sin. To spare him that further embarrassment, we put up clear signage.
The second place in this week’s Parsha where we see this sensitivity is right before a battle. The Jews had an army. Before every battle, they were given a pep rally by the Kohayn, who kept them focused on spirituality and G-dliness. A person going into battle for us had to be a person who had no sins. There would be an announcement made that anyone who put in effort in a project and didn’t get to enjoy the fruits yet, could leave and not be part of the battle. (This concept is another fascinating one, but that is for another day and discussion — the concept of putting in effort and being encouraged to enjoy those first flush of excitement and success). The other folks who could be excused from the army are those who are scared. All folks who get a deferment from army service get that deferment together — so when a gaggle of folks leave the ranks and head away no one knows who are the sinners, who are the newly-weds and who are the ones who just planted a vineyard. No one can point to any one person who is leaving the battlefield as the one who is scared his sins will do him in.
If that is the level of sensitivity the Torah demands for the dignity of sinners, it would behoove us all to register how very important protecting mankind’s dignity is to our value system!