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Bereishit-Shofetim: Mitzvah 520 – Concept 490

We are commanded to designate cities of refuge and prepare routes of access. (Deuteronomy 19:3, Rambam, Hilchot Rotzeiach U’Shemirat Nefesh – The Laws of Murder and the Preservation of Life) We find the original city of refuge in the story of Cain and Abel: “Cain left the presence of God and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” (Genesis 4:16) Rashi points out that the eastern region always forms a place of refuge, for the cities of refuge that Moshe later designated were also to the east, “The place of the sunrise.” (Deuteronomy 4:41) Adam too, went east when he was exiled from the Garden in Eden.

Although the east is a place of refuge, God, “Having driven out the man, He stationed at the east of the Garden in Eden the Cherubim and the flame of the ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the Tree of Life.” (3:24)

Why did God place the Cherubim at the very place of refuge?

Perhaps God did not want Adam to reenter Eden and eat of the Tree of Life as a refuge from the world. He wanted Adam, and wants us to search for Eden and Torah, the Tree of Life, not as an escape from the world, a place safe from dangers of our existence, but as a commitment to live with a taste of the Eternal Life even when here in this world.

Torah is not an escape. It cannot be fully lived or experienced as a safe haven. The Torah that is the Tree of Life is intended as a Living Torah, that helps us as we live in this world.

Prayer should not be an escape from life. It must be a way of enriching our lives and empowering us to live in this world.

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