Friday, August 21, 2009

measurement for eglah arufa -- machshava

Yesterday we discussed the halachic question of whether measuring to the closest city for purposes of eglah arufah is a birur, to determine where the victim came from, or simply a hanhaga. Support for the Rambam's view that it is a hanhaga can be gleaned from the fact that a measurement must be done even if it is obvious which is the closest city and from the fact that we ignore the actual closest city and measure only to a city which has a Beis Din. If the measurement is not for the purpose of gaining insight into where the victim came from, what meaning is there to this ceremony? And why must it be personally done by members of the Sanhedrin and not their agents (Sotah 45a)?

The Rambam's view certainly fits l'shitaso (see Ramban 21:4) of his explanation that the eglah arufah ceremony was designed for publicity. By having a public gathering involving members of the Sanhedrin, news of the murder would spread, increasing the likelihood that a witness might step forward. Determining the exact city the victim came from is secondary to spreading the word.

I think there is more to it than that. Why is it that the Beis Din of the closest city must perform the ceremony of eglah arufah and declare themselves innocent of spilling blood? As Chazal already ask, is it conceivable that Beis Din are murderers? Rashi cites Chazal's answer: Beis Din required atonement for perhaps not seeing to the stranger's hospitality in their city, leading to his/her wandering the dangerous roads and being attacked. Ibn Ezra offers a different, more remarkable answer: had Beis Din not been guilty of a similar crime, the murder of this innocent victim would not have occurred. I am not sure if Ibn Ezra means this in a mystical way or he simply means that where community leaders are lax even in a small way in a certain area that attitude seeps into the community and can have far greater and more dangerous repercussions. Either way, what emerges from Ibn Ezra is that members of Beis Din do not merely share the passive guilt of perhaps creating a situation ripe for crime to occur, but rather the members of Beis Din are themselves culpable in some way for the very crime of murder.

The parsha of eglah arufa demands the personal participation of members of Sanhedrin and calls for measurement specifically to a city with a Beis Din because the parsha is teaching is that leaders in particular bear direct responsibility for the actions that happen in their community. A city without a Beis Din is simply a city which relies on the next closest Beis Din for guidance, direction, oversight, supervision, because there is no city and community which can exist on its own unsupervised and without leadership. The measurement for eglah arufah is not only about attracting publicity to the crime, but is also about the public re-assertion of leadership and demonstration of responsibility by the Beis Din.

Read in this light, the opening and closing of Parshas Shoftim perfectly balance each other. The parsha opens with the charge to the community to appoint judges over themselves and accept their leadership. The end of the parsha calls upon judges and leaders to assert their leadership and act as models to the community or face devastating consequences.


  1. And this answers the question I asked you about minui dayanim in Eretz Yisrael. In fact, my son gave an outstanding drasha this past shabbos on exactly this point-- that dayanim aren't there only to pasken, they are called Elohim because of their influence on the community, both as role models and as metaphysical conduits for hashra'as hashechina. This is necessary more in EY than elsewhere. Apparently this is made clear in the last Ibn Ezra, not the one you quoted, but at the end of the parsha, and in the meforshim of the Ibn Ezra.

  2. chaim b.9:44 AM

    You mean the Ibn Ezra on "atah teva'er dam hanaki"?

  3. Yes. Here is the end of the outline he sent me:

    Kol hamelamed es ben chaveiro etc.

    What if you don’t teach him? That is like killing him!

    (addition: rashi in avos on udila mosif yasif: Someone asks him a Halacha and he doesn’t answer he is chayav misah)

    That could have been beis din’s aveirah. Because of that they are responsible for the murder near their city! Had they not been guilty of this crime, the rotzeiach would never have been able to kill anyone in their sphere of influence.

    That is pshat in Ben Azzai’s sheschar mitzvah mitzvah uschar aveirah aveirah. Run from even a tiny aveirah so that you don’t become responsible for another’s ability to carry out his evil intentions in your vicinity.
    (end outline)
    Without the Rashi on delo mosif yoseif, I would have said that melamed ben chaveiro is ke'ilu ye'lado, but if you're not melameid, it's neutral. KM'L, it's not neutral. If the opportunity arises, and you disregard it without a good excuse, it's ke'ilu harago.

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