והצילו העדה את־הרצח מיד גאל הדם והשׁיבו אתו העדה אל־עיר מקלטו אשׁר־נס שׁמה וישׁב בה עד־מות הכהן הגדל אשׁר־משׁח אתו בשׁמן הקדשׁ׃
and the community is to save the killer from the next-of-kin avenger. The community is to return him to the city of refuge to which he fled, and he is to live there until the cohen hagadol, who was anointed with the holy oil, dies. (Num 35:25 CJB)
THE DEATH OF THE INNOCENT VICTIM THAT ATONES FOR THE SINNER
Our text this week quotes Moshe as saying (from the mouth of HaShem, of course) that one guilty of involuntary manslaughter is to live in the city of refuge' until the cohen hagadol, who was anointed with the holy oil, dies. '(Num 35:25 CJB)
Many who are dubious of the Jewish nature of what is called the New Testament, contend with the so-called Christian idea that one may die for the sins of another. Our text today offers us a beautiful example of vicarious atonement taken straight from the Torah.
The high-priest wore a turban on which was written: "Kadosh l'Adonai קדשׁ ליהוה׃: meaning, "set-apart for Adonai" (Ex 28:36). The High-priest was set-apart (erroneously translated today as Holy /sinless) from common Israel and even from the priests in order to fulfill the very particular function of being the Holiest man on earth. He also represented one of the three functions that could be called: משיח Mashiach/Messiah: anointed one, the three functions that require an oil anointing being those of king, priest, and prophet (Yeshua embodied the three). The high-priest was to be chosen from among the priests. He is the one who performed the atoning rituals such as selecting, offering, and blessing the Passover Lamb and going in the Holy of Holies To atone for Israel as a nation on Yom Kippur. In this sense, within the function of being an atoning anointed set apart person, the high-priest of Israel was a forerunner of Messiah Himself.
(NOTE:The high-priest's set-apart-ness has nothing to do with personal righteousness, but rather with a Divine appointment having to do with biological descent. It would be better if the high-priest were a good representative of his function, but can we really blame him when he doesn't? None of us come up to the plate that HaShem has set up for us either. What we respect in the high-priest is the uniform and the divinely ordained function, not the man. There would be less anarchy in our present civic institutions if we remembered this principle more!)
Chassidim used this idea that the accidental murderer was freed from the city of refuge at the time of the death of the high-priest in order to explain from the Torah Itself the atoning nature of Messiah. Here is how they put it.
Chassidim who adhered to the idea that death and sometimes suffering were mostly the result of sin, asked why then is it that a holy man would suffer and die? From there, they concluded that he who does not suffer and die for his own sin suffers and dies atoning for the sins of others. Until this day the practice of Orthodox Jews going to the tomb of the patriarchs in order to extricate virtue from ancient righteous patriarchs persists.
The Midrash Rabah mentions,
'Rabbi Chia Bar Abba said, 'The sons of Aaron died on the first of Nissan. Why is their death mentioned in connection with the Day of Atonement? This is to teach you that just as the Day of Atonement brings atonement, so to, the death of the righteous brings atonement. And how do we know that the death of the righteous brings atonement? From the fact that it is written, 'Then they buried the bones of Sha'ul and Y'honatan his son in the territory of Binyamin in Tzela, in the tomb of Kish his father; they did everything the king ordered.' Only after that was God prevailed on to show mercy to the land." (2 Sa 21:14 CJB)
Whether we agree with the argument and hermeneutic style of it all, it is from these ideas as well as from many others found in Jewish texts, that Torah scholars understood the atoning nature of Messiah principle, which the disciples of the Master were familiar with in their day.
Rabbi Emmanuel Schochet said that, "Messiah, as a faithful shepherd, he already cares so much about his people that he volunteered to suffer all kinds of agonies to assure that not a single Jew of all times would be lost." On the consequences of sin, citing Isaiah 53 Reb Rov teaches from this beautiful and challenging statement, "One sinful blemish causes anguish to our righteous Messiah who suffers from our sins". In essence, any and each of our disobedience represents a lash with the cat of nine tails on Yeshua's back. Each voluntary discarding of the commandments represents a cut from the metal blades of the Roman whip; a broken piece of skin from the nails in His hands and feet or from the spear that entered His side; a spitting at His face; an injury; a thorn in the crown on His head. Quite a thought.
Something else about the cities of refuge. It is written:
"If Adonai your God expands your territory, as he swore to your ancestors that he would, and gives you all the land he promised to give to your ancestors - provided you keep and observe all these mitzvot I am giving you today, loving Adonai your God and always following his ways - then you are to add three more cities for yourselves, besides these three; (Deu 19:8-9 CJB)
It is from these injunctions that early Jews have declared a belief in the Messianic era; belief in a time when we will all know HaShem and follow Torah. This time of nine cities of refuge has not happened yet, but it will happen at the time when the Star out of Jacob, the Scepter out of Israel (Numb 24:17) will be revealed and manifested to all (as of today, the Star has been seen by some; the Scepter is not a full reality yet)...
At that point, Adonai your God will reverse your exile and show you mercy; he will return and gather you from all the peoples to which Adonai your God scattered you. If one of yours was scattered to the far end of the sky, Adonai your God will gather you even from there; he will go there and get you. Adonai your God will bring you back into the land your ancestors possessed, and you will possess it; he will make you prosper there, and you will become even more numerous than your ancestors.
(Deu 30:3-5 CJB)
MAY IT BE SOON HASHEM, EVEN IN OUR DAYS!
R' GAVRIEL LUMBROSO