After my accident, I tried to find solace in religion, but it just didn’t take. That changed when, quite by accident, I discovered that the old testament (or Torah) devotes considerable attention to the predicament of accident killers. I was floored when I learned that God instructed Moses to establish safe places — cities of refuge — for those who accidentally killed another person. Even God finds CADI’s deserving of asylum. You can read about cities of refuge in Numbers, Deuteronomy, the book of Joshua, plus hundreds of pages of commentary. For instance, this is from Deuteronomy:
“Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: when you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, you shall provide yourselves with places to serve you as cities of refuge to which a manslayer who has killed a person unintentionally may flee. The cities shall serve you as a refuge from the avenger, so that the manslayer may not die unless he has stood trial before the assembly.”
The chapter continues with a long description of the differences between accidental killing and murder. Someone who pushed or struck another man in hate or with the intention of killing him was a murderer. “But if he pushed him without malice aforethought or hurled any object at him unintentionally, or inadvertently dropped upon him any deadly object of stone, and death resulted – though he was not an enemy of his and did not seek his harm – in such cases the assembly shall decide between the slayer and blood-avenger.”
Once I learned about the cities of refuge, I spent hours reading about them. At first there were six cities of refuge – eventually there were over 40. Once an accidental killer reached a city of refuge, he was safe from revenge and attack. He would then stand trial; if the Assembly concluded that the killing was truly accidental, the person would remain safe inside the city of refuge. If they left the city, however, they would be vulnerable – the victim’s family could attack them with impunity. So, the accidental killer did face consequences for causing death, but could also be safe and welcomed into the community.
There are hundreds of pages of commentary and explanation about cities of refuge. Some of the rules are mysterious or at least ambiguous in intent – for instance, why did the bible specify that accidental killers could safely leave their city of refuge when the High Priest died, whether that happened one day or many decades after they arrived in the city?
In future blog posts, I will write more about how the cities of refuge worked. For now, I just want to say how much the notion of cities of refuge means to me. For one thing, it means that God (whoever that is or whatever that means) is kind to CADI’s. But “kind” does not mean that the accidental killer faces no consequences at all. In Biblical times, it meant they could live a full and rewarding life – but a different life than they led before the accident, characterized by deep awareness of the preciousness and fragility of life.
Thousands of years after the cities of refuge were established, I seek to create my own city of refuge in my home and community. I do not ever want to forget – I can never forget – the child that ran in front of my car and was killed. I want to honor him in the choices I make, including the choice to be kind to myself.