1 When they had finished dividing the land, Hashem said to Yehoshua:
א וַיְדַבֵּר יְהֹוָה אֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁעַ לֵאמֹר׃
2 “Speak to the Israelites: Designate the cities of refuge—about which I commanded you through Moshe
20:2 Designate the cities of refuge
The cities of refuge are places where people who are guilty of unintentional manslaughter must flee for protection from the relatives of their victims. The accidental killer must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the Kohen Gadol. This law, which subjects the unwitting murderer to exile from his home, teaches a powerful lesson. The section of the Torah which details these laws ends with words, “You shall not pollute the land in which you live; for blood pollutes the land… You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I Myself abide, for I Hashem abide among B’nei Yisrael” (Numbers 35:33-34). Bloodshed, even unintentional, defiles the sanctity of the land. Therefore, the perpetrator must undergo a symbolic exile from the land which he has defiled. He can return only once atonement is achieved through the death of the Kohen Gadol. Similarly, the Jewish people were exiled from the Land of Israel because of their collective desecration of the land. And just as the unwitting murderer eventually returns home from the city of refuge, the People of Israel are now also returning home from their long and painful exile, to Eretz Yisrael.2 comments
3 to which a manslayer who kills a person by mistake, unintentionally, may flee. They shall serve you as a refuge from the blood avenger.
ג לָנוּס שָׁמָּה רוֹצֵחַ מַכֵּה־נֶפֶשׁ בִּשְׁגָגָה בִּבְלִי־דָעַת וְהָיוּ לָכֶם לְמִקְלָט מִגֹּאֵל הַדָּם׃
4 He shall flee to one of those cities, present himself at the entrance to the city gate, and plead his case before the elders of that city; and they shall admit him into the city and give him a place in which to live among them.
ד וְנָס אֶל־אַחַת מֵהֶעָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וְעָמַד פֶּתַח שַׁעַר הָעִיר וְדִבֶּר בְּאָזְנֵי זִקְנֵי־הָעִיר הַהִיא אֶת־דְּבָרָיו וְאָסְפוּ אֹתוֹ הָעִירָה אֲלֵיהֶם וְנָתְנוּ־לוֹ מָקוֹם וְיָשַׁב עִמָּם׃
5 Should the blood avenger pursue him, they shall not hand the manslayer over to him, since he killed the other person without intent and had not been his enemy in the past.
ה וְכִי יִרְדֹּף גֹּאֵל הַדָּם אַחֲרָיו וְלֹא־יַסְגִּרוּ אֶת־הָרֹצֵחַ בְּיָדוֹ כִּי בִבְלִי־דַעַת הִכָּה אֶת־רֵעֵהוּ וְלֹא־שֹׂנֵא הוּא לוֹ מִתְּמוֹל שִׁלְשׁוֹם׃
6 He shall live in that city until he can stand trial before the assembly, [and remain there] until the death of the Kohen Gadol who is in office at that time. Thereafter, the manslayer may go back to his home in his own town, to the town from which he fled.”
ו וְיָשַׁב בָּעִיר הַהִיא עַד־עָמְדוֹ לִפְנֵי הָעֵדָה לַמִּשְׁפָּט עַד־מוֹת הַכֹּהֵן הַגָּדוֹל אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם אָז יָשׁוּב הָרוֹצֵחַ וּבָא אֶל־עִירוֹ וְאֶל־בֵּיתוֹ אֶל־הָעִיר אֲשֶׁר־נָס מִשָּׁם׃
8 And across the Yarden, east of Yericho, they assigned Bezer in the wilderness, in the Tableland, from the tribe of Reuven; Ramoth in Gilad from the tribe of Gad; and Golan in Bashan from the tribe of Menashe.
9 Those were the towns designated for all the Israelites and for aliens residing among them, to which anyone who killed a person unintentionally might flee, and not die by the hand of the blood avenger before standing trial by the assembly.