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    Death of the priest – Mass’ei

    Fleeing to a city of refuge, Foster Bible Pictures

    There were several cities of refuge where an inadvertent killer could seek asylum until the death of the kohen gadol, the high priest (Num. 35:25).

    Abravanel says that the death of a high priest was such a tragedy for the people that everyone was subdued. People would repent to such an extent that the avenger of blood would have no heart to pursue the killer.

    Yet everyone, including a high priest, is bound to die some time, so why see it as an extraordinary emotional event?

    It all depends on who the high priest was. There was a stage before the destruction of the Second Temple when high priests, generally political lackeys, followed one another so often that hardly any had a following amongst the people. In their case there was a sense of relief when one of them died and there was very little mourning at his death.

    The Torah, however, is not thinking of kohanim of dubious character but good, pious, devoted men whose death, even in old age, shattered the people and led to the feeling, “We shall not look upon his like again”.

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