Roadsigns to Eternity
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
The Torah not only tells us how to live our lives and where to go, this
week it tells us how to get there as well! First the Torah tells us about
a man who was negligent and accidentally killed someone. We are to
establish cities of refuge where he can flee and live until he can return
home. "You shall separate three cities for yourselves in the midst of your
Land, which Hashem, your G-d, gives you to possess it" (Deuteronomy
19:2). But the Torah does more than tell us to build cities of refuge. In
an unprecedented command, it establishes a highway commission, telling us,
"Prepare the way for yourself, … and it shall be for any murderer to flee
there (ibid v.3)
Rashi quotes the Talmud in Makos that there were signs posted at each
crossroad pointing and declaring, "Refuge! Refuge!" each pointing the way
to the nearest refuge city.
But, why? If road signs should be erected, shouldn't they be for
Jerusalem, guiding the thousands of tri-annual travelers from the north and
south who journeyed there for the shalosh regalim? Why should cities that
house manslaughter offenders, get guideposts while the holiest city of
Rav Meir Shapiro, established one of Europe's most prestigious Yeshivos of
its era. The Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin, not only housed a magnificent Bais
Medrash, it had a spacious dormitory and dining hall. Its fine
accommodations would spare Yeshiva boys the embarrassment of having to eat
teg, virtually begging for meals in the homes of wealthier business people.
But in order for the students not to plead, Rabbi Shapiro did. And so he
traveled around the globe, crossing the ocean to the US and Canada, to
raise funds for the beautiful Yeshiva. In fact, he even served as a cantor
in a prestigious North American congregation in lieu of a one thousand
dollar gift to the Yeshiva.
On a visit to the office of a prominent businessman, one who had strayed
from the path paved in Europe by his parents and grandparents, Rabbi
Shapiro was asked an unusual question.
"Rabbi," the industrialist proposed, "why is it that you have to see so
many Jews to accomplish your goal? If Hashem wanted your Yeshiva to
flourish, why didn't He arrange that you meet just one philanthropist who
will undertake the entire project, by adding a few zeros to the amount of
his check? After all," continued the magnate. There are plenty of modern
institutions in the US that have been established by one benefactor!"
Rabbi Shapiro smiled. "Let me explain: Hashem not only wants that the
Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin should thrive, he wants as many people
in America as possible to know what is happening there as well! Had one
man given me a check, and I would have taken the next boat back, I never
would be talking to you about Yiddishkeit, about your heritage, your past,
and your future! Now however, I meet hundreds of Jews who have heard about
the tremendous love for Torah that our students have. They have heard the
beauty of their mission and their devotion to the cause of learning
Torah. They know what Tractate we are studying and how we apply Torah to
Some ask about the size of the building and all about the Sifrei Torah that
will be place in the Aron Kodesh.
When someone with a single check endows a music hall, nobody else gets
involved in its development and its intricate details become the obsession
of individuals, not the shared responsibility of a community! So there is
no excitement, no involvement, no buzz! You can't build enthusiasm in that
Imagine the scene: A man kills accidentally; he has to flee to the city of
refuge. He does not know where the city is. He knocks on a
door. "Hello," he exclaims to the startled homeowner, "I just killed
someone, um… accidentally. Do you know where the Ir Miklat (city of
Anxiety, depression and even despair is fostered. The buzz is bad. There
are murderers loose. And when they inform the public, often enough of their
misdeeds, it sets an apathetic tone, where reckless manslaughter becomes
the norm. The shock of death is dulled, and it becomes part of the
repertoire of the urban experience. And wanton disregard becomes
contagious. And the virus of sin spreads rapidly. And so the signs are set
and the directions are clear and the murderers flee taking refuge in
clearly marked cities, no questions asked, at least until the situation is
On the other hand, take the trip to Jerusalem: The city with no
directional advisories. Imagine: There is a crossroad. There is no
sign. One must knock on a door. "Excuse me, do you know how to get to
"Oh! You are going to Yerushalayim?" the person declares and asks in
unison. "Maybe you can wait, I'll come along!" "Perhaps you can shlep this
small package for my son in Yeshiva there!" (Some things never
change!) Oh! You are going to Jerusalem! When is Yom Tov? It is time for
me to make my preparations as well! When people have to share the good
queries there is excitement, tumult, even spirituality in the air! And it
becomes contagious for the good!
Dedicated by the Martz Family in memory of Nettie Martz &
Best Wishes to Congregation Ohav Zedek and Rabbi Meir Rosenberg of Wilkes
Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Associate Dean of theYeshiva of South Shore.
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