OHR TZVI ON THE PARSHA: Masei - It’s Not My Fault But It Is My Problem

Rabbi Yehoshua Weber

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We all make mistakes, don’t we?

We make mistakes when we say the wrong thing, when we make financial miscalculations and when we slipshod with hazards.

We don’t want those mistakes. And we don’t mean to do wrong.

But, intentional or not, wrong or not, our mistakes create problems. Saying the wrong thing destroys marriages, friendships and communities. Financial miscalculations ruin businesses. And being slipshod with hazards causes awful tragedies.

Those problems need rectification.

And shouldn’t those who created – and who, therefore, “own” – those problems, be tasked with rectifying them?

This may be the message of the aphorism that says: “the owner of the ox must accept responsibility for his ox”[1] – we are responsible for “our problems.”

This may also explain how our parsha deals with the accidental killer. That killer, we are told, was: “sent …to the city of exile … and he remains there…[2]

Exiling someone this way is a terrible punishment, even today. How much more so, back when the lack of modern communication totally sundered deportees from family and friends. Indeed, we read that: “exile is almost like death.”[3]

And yet accidental killers – whose crimes weren’t malevolent – suffered these severe punishments! Why?

Perhaps because the killer is obligated to address “his” problems – which his exile does.

His exile addressed the problem of the bereaved family’s suffering.

How so? Firstly, by comforting the bereaved family in showing them that justice was being served.

Secondly, by distancing the killer from the victim’s family – thereby shielding the family from painful chance encounters with the killer.[4]

His exile also addressed judicial problems. Those problems may have arisen  if, seeing a seemingly unpunished killer, made people assume that justice wasn’t being served. Such assumptions could cause angry relatives to “rectify” matters by assassinating the killer.

Yes, the courts would have tried punishing the assassins. Those attempts, though, may have failed. Why? Because extended families may have protected “righteous” assassins from an “unjust” legal system.

All this could have led to anarchic, court-emasculating Wild West situations.[5]

The accidental killer, then, wasn’t exiled because he deserved a terrible punishment. He was exiled because exile fixed “his” problems.

This isn’t just about the killer fixing his mistakes.

This is also about us fixing our mistakes.

Sometimes, it's easy to fix mistakes. Sometimes, we just need to apologize. Sometime, we just need to pay a debt.

Sometimes, though, - for reasons that can include another person’s emotional imbalance – its harder to fix problems.

Some people won’t accept apologies. Some people won’t let us pay our debts.

When people rebuff our overtures, we may feel that overtures are pointless. We may, then, stop trying to right wrongs.

We can do that and, thereby, let things remain uncorrected.

Or we can do something else.

We can recall that while this problem wasn’t our intent, it was our creation. We can recall that the accidental killer suffered an exile “almost like death”[6] so as to fix “his” problem.

We can recall that we’re meant to bring only good to this world and that we’ll be asked, upon leaving this world, if we left unresolved problems behind.

Those recollections may push us to try harder to resolve any and all problems.

Will our efforts make that challenging personality accept our overtures? Will the problems be addressed?

Perhaps yes. Perhaps no.

But even if our problems remain unresolved, we will know that we, “the owner of the ox … accepted responsibility for our ox.”[7]

Rabbi Weber is founder of Ohr Tzvi Montebello-Monsey. Please visit his website, ohrtzvi.org, to sign up for his weekly email message or for information on his live or zoom shiurim. Rabbi Weber will be scholar in residence at the Hudson Valley Resort for Sukkos. For information, please email or call (845) 794-6000

[1] Sotah 112:

[2] Bamidbar, 35:25

[3] Sefer haChinuch, 410

[4] Moreh Nevuchim 3:40

[5] Shadal, Bamidbar, 35:12

[6] Sefer haChinuch, 410

[7] Sotah 112b


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