This week’s Torah portion talks about the commandment to create sanctuary cities for those who have committed negligent homicide. They’re sort of “living with the monks” (actually the Levites) for safety from the vengeful family of the victim — until the High Priest dies.
At that point they go free.
So what happens in the sanctuary cities? By virtue of living amongst the Levites, whose entire life is public service — this is intended to heal the soul of the negligent murderer. The thinking is that with this type of person, it’s only a matter of time. So they may have made a mistake once, but that mistake inevitable because that’s how they were operating. And that if you’re really careful and you’re really intentional, you aren’t brought to such situations.
But in the meantime, the murderer lives a life of exile.
Exile is actually a very deep concept in Judaism. Anytime that we’re disconnected from God, we’re living in exile, we are not truly ourselves.
As an example, I publicly shared my Hebrew name yesterday, like it was a gigantic revolutionary coming out act, which is sort of crazy. I mean, my Hebrew name is my Jewish name. You know, my Jewish self is my integral self.
And yet it felt like revealing some aspect of myself that was super-secret, or hidden.
On a more extreme level, mind-control victims are alienated from themselves (tortured into dissociative identity disorder) – which is exile in every way; their personalities are split into a thousand different pieces.
So this notion of the exile is, is so deep and has so many directions. Of course Jews think about exile as not being in the land of Israel (“galus”) but at the height of this exile, we actually can lose our connection to Israel itself. And not even know we ultimately do belong there, and will be returned there in the Redemption.
The key to overcoming self-exile is to persist. Even when it seems “too late,” impossible, and everything seems against you. You can do it through will and deliberate action.
The great sage Rabbi Akiva only started learning Torah late in life — age 40 — he couldn’t read or write. But his wife pushed him to study, and he did.
As long as you’re alive, and you want to connect back to your inner self, you can make that a reality.
Supportive people around you really help.
By Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own. Public domain.