Shaya Cohen -


When a Person Needs Killin’

My #4 son, who is twelve years old, pointed out a new way to read a verse in the Torah.

“He that smiteth a man, so that he dieth, shall surely be put to death. And if a man does not ambush [to kill], but God cause it to come to hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he may flee.” (Ex. 21:12,13)

We usually read this as a sneak preview of the idea of Cities of Refuge. The Torah establishes places for people to go to escape vengeful relatives, and so to avoid the kinds of blood feuds that have splintered tribal societies since the dawning of time. The key idea is that accidental killings should not be treated the same as murder.

But my son pointed out that the phrase does not say that the killing “just happened” or was accidental. The phrase “G-d causes it to come to hand,” might refer to accident, but it might also refer to a providential killing. In other words: a person finds that the right thing to do in a certain situation is to take a life. In other words, the dead person “needed killin’.”

It sounds extreme, and perhaps it is. But it is not hard to imagine a scenario where circumstances lead you to needing to kill someone, especially in the many lawless or evil societies that exist throughout the world and in history. “Circumstances”, to a religious person, may well be equivalent to “G-d causes it to come to hand.”

As #4 told me, this is precisely the situation that Moshe finds himself in when he sees an Egyptian overseer beating a Jewish slave. The overseer needs killin’. Moshe looks both ways, kills the Egyptian, and then flees the country, in fear for his life. He finds a place to go, in Midian.

The Torah tells us that Moshe’s experience, rather than being the exception, may well have set the trend. If G-d puts you in a situation where killing is the right thing to do, then G-d will make sure there a place where you can flee.

Comments are welcome!

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