Three Refuge Cities – Deuteronomy 4:41-49 – Part II
In last week’s blog, I discussed interpersonal aspects of having refuge cities to which unintentional perpetrators of manslaughter could run for protection. In this post I will reflect on the intrapersonal, inspired by a piece written by Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, called The Torah is Our Life. He wrote:
. . . the Torah is our “city of refuge.” Inside the Torah and the lifestyle that God prescribes for us, we are spiritually alive; if we venture outside the confines of the Torah’s lifestyle, we expose ourselves to the risk of spiritual death.
The Torah, in this light, appears as something external to us, something that we can live within, as the Rebbe writes. It is a world unto itself and the observant and studious Jew enters into that world and finds refuge from the mad world raging around us. It brings a sense of purpose, of order, of meaning to one’s life.However, if we regard the Torah as a “city of refuge”, we are talking about the Torah as something you run to as fast as your feet can carry you because you accidentally did something wrong. And this is NOT what Torah is about. It is not something you run to as an escape from something else. Not something you run to because you did something wrong. Torah is something you live within because of its intrinsic nature, because it resonates within you, because when you live in Torah, your own inner world and outer world are in synch with each other. Therefore, while it sounds nice at first and with all due respect to the Rebbe who was a great man, I reject, for the moment, this reference to the Torah as a “city of refuge”.
And this leads me to consider the sense of inside versus outside. The Torah community can be a protective and all-embracing community. But that is true only if you accept all the precepts of the particular group to which you belong. If you question too much or ask not quite the right questions, as I did when I explored Chabad many many years ago, then you can be kicked out on your ears and left outside in the rain.
Maybe your family is your refuge. But if you are too much out of synch with a family that cannot handle differences, then you can find yourself on the outside looking in . . . or looking for other outsiders with whom to connect and adopt as a substitute family. Perhaps your couplehood is your refuge; but we all know how fragile couples relationships can be.
It is wonderful to have those you trust to whom you run seeking refuge when times are tough, people who accept you as you are, with whom you can share your fears and tribulations. And to find sustenance in their hugs and their love.
Let us note, as well, that each of us has an inner world and an outer world. If, in the outer world, I feel threatened, I need to be able to find solace within myself because I cannot always find a refuge in the outer world. Having refuge does not mean being resolved of the need for soul searching and examining one’s own behaviour to identify wrong-doing, however unintentional it may have been. Having refuge just means that you are given a time out to lick your wounds and recharge your batteries for life’s challenges that still lay ahead.
Andin the final analysis, I think, it is with oneself that each of us must live. One should not be willing to sacrifice one’s ethics, one’s values, or one’s principles in order to belong to a group of any kind, whether it is a couple, a family or a community. Therefore, while we seek comfort with other human beings, we must seek to make our own inner worlds our refuge.
And now we come full circle back to the Rebbe’s idea of the Torah as a city of refuge: According to Chabad writings,
In Kabbalah, “God” is the term employed to describe the underlying structure of all of existence, including of course human existence. In Kabbalah, a relationship with God means a relationship with your own inner core, with the reality of your reality. Alienation from God means alienation from the depths of the self.
Looked at in this way, adherence to a Torah lifestyle presents the individual with an opportunity to connect deeply with one’s own inner core, the place of true refuge.