There Is Always Hope
In the early part of this Torah portion, Moshe Rabbeinu continues his rebuke of klal Yisrael, reminding them of their special relationship with God and what happens if they stray from the path set forth by the Torah. The verses explain that God, in His great love for klal Yisrael, has given them Eretz Yisrael and that they must observe His commandments in order to assure a good and long life in it. According to the Ramban (on Deut 1:1) these verses mark the end of Moshe's introduction to his great speech. The second section of the speech commences at the start of chapter five, in which he exhorts them to listen to the Torah and to take care to observe its precepts. This is underscored by a presentation of the revelation at Sinai, the Shema, and a list of many mitzvos, some repeated, others not yet mentioned.
It is curious to note that there is a short parsha recorded between these two sections. It describes how Moshe separated three special cities on the east side of the Jordan. These were three of the six cities which were to be designated as arey miklat (cities of refuge), to which an accidental murderer could flee:
Then Moshe separated three cities on the far side of the Jordan, toward the sun rising. (Devarim 4:41)
Why is this parsha recorded here? It seems entirely misplaced, unrelated to the material either before or after it. We could suggest that it is mentioned here to indicate Yisrael's enthusiasm for mitzvos. The text has just discussed the gift of Eretz Yisrael to the nation, and this separation of cities shows how dear the land was to them, for they dealt with it immediately. However, this is inadequate, as the conquest of the eastern bank of the Jordan from Sichon and Og had already been described in Parashas Devarim. The separation of the cities should thus have been mentioned there. A deeper explanation is clearly necessary.
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REBUKE AND HOPELESSNESS
While Moshe felt it necessary to rebuke the people before his death, he was aware of a hazard which this entailed. He was concerned that when he described all of their past failings and the dangers which the future held in store for them, they would despair of ever succeeding. A terrible feeling of hopelessness might set into the people, a depression from which they might never recover. Actually, Moshe tried to offset this feeling:
And now, Yisrael, what does the Lord your God ask of you, except to fear the Lord your God, to go in His ways, and to love him and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul? (Ibid. 10:12)
And now, Yisrael - even though you have done all this [i.e., sinned], His mercy and closeness is still upon you. For all that you have sinned, He only asks of you to fear... (Rashi loc. cit.)
Although the feeling of despair is mitigated somewhat by this statement, the concern that klal Yisrael might lose hope was very real. They would notice that even the generation of the Exodus were unable to resist sin, despite the tremendous miracles which they had witnessed. Indeed, at Matan Torah Moshe told the people:
...do not fear, for God has come to test you, and so His fear may be upon your faces, so that you shall not sin. (Shemos 20:17)
Notwithstanding all this, they sinned with the Golden Calf and on numerous other occasions. The generation who stood at the border of Eretz Yisrael 40 years later knew that, unlike their forefathers, they would have to work the land and live normal lives without great revelations. They felt that if their ancestors had been unable to resist temptation, how could they possibly manage to maintain an appropriate relationship with God and avoid incurring His wrath by serving Him with love and devotion?
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THE AREY MIKLAT
We may suggest that this is the reason for Moshe's introduction of the material dealing with the arey miklat. As we have mentioned in Parshas Masay, a murderer, albeit accidentally, has terminated the life of another human being. As such, he has lost his connection to his life force, his right to continued spiritual existence.
The arey miklat, as well as the forty-two cities of Levitical residence, are administered by the Levi'im; and all of these forty-eight locations provide refuge for the accidental murderer. The Levi's prime task was to sing hymns of praise to God in the Beis HaMikdash, inspiring the people to deepen their connection with the Divine. As such, the Levi is the medium through which the killer may reestablish his connection to God - his life force - and thus rehabilitate himself after his error. Thus the cities of refuge and the Levitical cities become a means through which he may return to normal life.
The very existence of the arey miklat and the laws surrounding them have a clear implication: there is always hope for the future. Even one (such as the accidental killer) who has totally lost his life force and ability to continue a meaningful existence should not lose hope. It is always possible to move forward, to begin again, if necessary, with the assistance of a third party. Just as the killer draws renewed life from the Levi, so too may any member of klal Yisrael, in any circumstance, draw renewed enthusiasm and hope from another.
Thus Moshe mentioned the cities after the rebuke was concluded. Once Yisrael had heard his criticism, they might despair of ever achieving the will of God and not angering Him. In response, the Torah presents the arey miklat - to prove that whatever the situation, there is always hope.