|You shall designate cities for yourselves, cities of refuge shall they be for you, and a murderer shall flee there—one who takes a life unintentionally. (Numbers 35:11) Involuntary manslaughter is something we take seriously. If an axe head becomes dislodged and kills an innocent bystander, the chopper/killer must quickly escape to one of the three cities of refuge in Israel; his safety is only assured when he gets there. The unintentional killer’s life has been overturned due to his being forced to flee in exile. One might ask, the wood chopper isn’t a murderer, why should his life be ruined—having to live in exile—for an unintentional act?
When a person places value on something, he or she will do anything to ensure its existence. People who hang fine art in their homes make sure their doors are locked and have the correct temperature and humidity balance. But if an armed robber or a hurricane comes their way, the art is lost. Although they feel bad at the loss, they will collect insurance and move on. However, if the preservation of their masterpiece was critical for them, they would have taken precautions to ensure that even an armed gunman would not have been able to get close to it. Imagine the precautions taken on something as precious as the original copy of the Declaration of Independence? It is stored at the National Archives with the Constitution and Bill of Rights in cases made of glass and titanium. The air is removed from the cases and replaced with argon and water vapor. The relative humidity inside the cases is kept at 40 percent to keep the sheepskin parchment on which the documents are written from drying out. The argon gas is used because oxygen in air can cause damage to the material from oxidation. The indicator of the degree of importance we place on something is the level of protection we are willing to give it.
The Torah deals harshly with an unintentional manslaughterer to point out the value of human life. Even though the ax head slipped off accidentally—it was only an innocent fluke—but if the person really valued human life, he would have taken greater precautions. He should have realized there were people in the vicinity of his chopping and that everything should have been checked for safety. Approximately 64,000,000 flights travel a year (commercial, cargo, military, and other) yet (fortunately) we only hear of a few accidents each year. Even though the odds of an accident are at literally one in millions, nevertheless the FAA has hundreds of regulations for every flight. Odds don’t dictate policies, attitude toward loss does.Ask yourself, when I look at my life, what am I protecting? You answer will reveal what’s truly important to you. Many wealthy people say their biggest fear is that they will lose their money; they live life attempting to make sure that won’t happen. For others it’s honor; they’ll do anything to maintain it—even if it means distancing family and friends. Some people, more noble, will do anything to preserve their family, even if it means giving up a promotion or relocating to a seemingly better place (but not better for their family). The examples are endless but how does that apply to your life? Name three things you would do anything to protect and you will have perspective in what’s crucial in your life.
What are we Jews willing to protect? Would we agree to speak loshon hara (derogatory speech) on a coworker if it would advance our career even though it might ruin hers? Would you be willing to do something or marry someone that might compromise your life as a Jew?
What’s on your list; what’s important to you? If preserving our Judaism isn’t on the protection list it shows it isn’t very important to us. What’s on your list?