The Power of Escorting

Several young bachurim, who had come from other towns to study in the Piaseczne Rebbe’s yeshivah in Warsaw, merited to sleep in the basement of the Rebbe’s house. The Rebbe used to come by during the night and check up on them to see if all their needs were taken care of.

In Poland it was an accepted minhag to make certain that the moon did not shine directly into the face of a person who was sleeping. One night there was a full moon, and it shone directly through the shutters into the faces of the sleeping bachurim. The Rebbe came in during the night, and he began to drag the heavy metal beds they were sleeping in away from the windows. One of the bachurim awoke to find the Rebbe himself dragging his bed.

Years later, this talmid related to a family member that during the dark days of the Holocaust, when he was in the concentration camps, there were times when he felt he could no longer go on. He was overcome by grief and incredible suffering. Then he recalled what the Rebbe had done and reasoned, The Rebbe certainly had ruach hakodesh. If he had not felt that I would survive the war, he would never have made such a great effort to drag my bed away from the window by himself.

This gave the talmid courage to go on living. He survived the war and was zocheh to build a beautiful family.

* * *

Towards the end of this week’s parashah we learn the halachos of eglah arufah: what to do if the victim of a murder is found lying in a field. As part of the process, the elders of the nearest city must speak up and say: “Our hands have not spilled this blood, and our eyes did not see.”

“Has it occurred to anybody to think that the elders of the court are murderers?” Chazal ask. But what the elders are really saying is that they did not see [the visitor] leaving and send him off without food and without escort.”

If that is the case, then the converse is also true: If someone is seen leaving a city and allowed to go without food and escort, then no longer can it be said, “Our hands have not spilled this blood.”

The idea that sending someone off without food for the way is tantamount to murder is easy to understand. Rashi explains that such a failure would force a starving traveler to resort to highway banditry, and that in turn can cause him to be killed by a fellow traveler in self-defense. Others say that a famished traveler would be so weakened that he would not be able to fight off an attacker.

How about escorting a visitor? Granted, it is not just etiquette but a halachic requirement that completes the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim. But how can failure to escort someone from the city cause his death?

One explanation (based on Maharal) is that when someone leaves a city without escort, he feels that he is alone in the world and no one cares about him. Dejected and depressed, he will give way to the first adversary he will face. Thus, failure to escort someone from the city can indeed ultimately cause his death. However, when a Yid leaves a city and one takes the time to escort him, he feels that someone cares about him. This feeling will give him the strength to face whatever challenges he may encounter.

* * *

The Talmud Yerushalmi gives an alternate explanation for “Our hands have not spilled this blood, and our eyes did not see.” Instead of referring to the victim, it says, it refers to the murderer. In essence, what the elders of the city were required to say was: “The murderer did not come into our hands only to be allowed to go free; we did not see him, yet close an eye to his guilt…”

While the halachah pertains to the taking of a Jewish soul through a violent and wanton act, the declaration, “Our hands have not spilled this blood, and our eyes did not see” presumably refers to all those individuals and forces that continue to cause such grievous harm to the collective spiritual soul of our nation.

The Pieczesna Rebbe — among many others — writes that it does not suffice simply not to obey the call of the evil inclination, nor is it enough not to like him; we must hate and despise him with a passion, recognizing that this agent of destruction is determined to deprive us of this world and of the World to Come.

We are now in the month of Elul, a period of spiritual growth and introspection. It is a particularly apropos time to search for and identify all the harmful influences in our lives. It is a time for a fresh commitment, a determination not to allow such influences to “go free,” not to dare “close an eye to its guilt.”