Exiled and Free

Friday, 9 August, 2013 - 1:42 pm


“Oh my, what have I done?!” 

The awful realization began to sink in; he had just killed a man!

It was a terrible accident which he couldn’t have seen coming and there was no way to prevent. Faulty equipment caused a sharp blade to fly off the axe just as someone walked through the door. The horror of what had occurred began to sink in… But it was too late now. A man lay dead on the ground.

The Torah rules in the case of an inadvertent murderer that he must leave his home and community and go into exile. This provides a two-fold solution; it protects him from the possible vengeance of a relative of the deceased and it also provides a spiritual atonement, because exile is a method that one atones for sins.

There is a profound Chassidic teaching that explains the practical relevance of this law today (a time when its literal application is, for the time being, not possible).

This City of Refuge concept is uniquely connected to the Jewish month we are in, Elul. This week’s Torah portion that discusses details about this law is always during this month, and the Hebrew word Elul is an acronym of the Hebrew words that describe this Mitzvah*.

Exile means to leave (as G-d told to Abraham) “your land, your birthplace and your father’s house.” The month of Elul is like a time-based City of Refuge. We enter it by stepping out of the familiar surroundings of our personal desires, our inborn character traits and the conclusions reached through our limited human intellect.

When we are looking to free ourselves from the negativity that we have accumulated over the past year, we must step away from – 

-          Our personal desires, the egocentric mindset of “what do I need?” and exchange it for the mindset of “what am I needed for?” When we are able to appreciate our purpose in being, we are able to appreciate the means to accomplish it.

-          Our inborn character traits can be a real obstacle for growth. We don’t need to be like the scorpion in Aesop’s famous fable; being conscious and aware of our tendencies helps us overcome them. We may have been born with these character traits, but just as we outgrow other tendencies, we can outgrow these negative traits too.

-          Our limited human intellect is a source of great innovation, but it is also a very limiting force. Realizing that some things are greater than we are, opens us for positive change and personal growth.

I wholeheartedly encourage you; let go of your baggage and travel into the empowering month of Elul, harness its force and create meaningful and lasting positive change in your life.

* The Hebrew word אלולis an acronym for the words of the verse (Exodus 21:13) אִנָּהלְיָדווְשַׂמְתִּילְךָ“[G-d] caused it to happen, and I will provide [a place] for you [to which he can flee].”

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