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Home » Mishpatim

Mishpatim: A Tale of Two Perspectives

Submitted by on February 10, 2006 – 8:03 pmNo Comment | 2,133 views

Murder and Peace

“If a man should act against his fellow to kill him with guile, from my altar shall you take him to die”. Why does the Torah speak of taking the murderer from the altar? The altar is known as an instrument of peace but if a murderer seeks protection at the altar he will not find it there. His act of murder has disturbed the peace and only his execution can restore it.

Yoav’s Intentions

In the second chapter of the first book of Kings we read that Yoav, general of King David’s army, was convicted for the deliberate but cunning murder of two innocent men. When word of his conviction reached him he ran to the altar and clung to it.

Our sages asked why Yoav, a learned man, sought refuge at the altar knowing that it couldn’t protect him? Yoav knew that if he resisted he would be executed right beside the altar and that was precisely how he preferred to die.

Dying at the altar might in some way have ennobled Yoav. The Talmud spoke of Yoav in glowing terms. He was a gifted Torah scholar, he was extremely charitable to the poor, he  fought many loyal and successful battles for King David; he was not a common criminal. The two men he murdered were thought to have rebelled against King David. By dying at the Altar he would have proclaimed his innocent intentions.

He knew that he deserved to die but he may have sought to control the circumstances of his death in order to inform the masses that his actions were nobly intended.

King David’s Curse

This may have been further illustrated by the fact that King Solomon agreed to release Yoav from his father’s curse. Many years earlier King David  uttered five terrible curses against Yoav for the first of the murders of which he was later convicted.Standing at the Altar Yoav entered into negotiation with King Solomon’s guard. He argued that he should not be punished twice for the same deed, if he was to be executed he should be released from the curse. King Solomon agreed, but in order to release him from the curse Solomon was forced to accept the curse upon himself!

Perhaps this was Solomon’s way of paying homage to the man who had fought to establish the Davidic line of kingdom to which Solomon was heir. Though he was to be punished for his excesses he was to be commended for his heroism and contribution.

The lesson we can learn from this is timeless. Even as we prosecute and punish another for his or her shortcomings we must also remember their contributions. I don’t know about you, but I find this a challenge worth its effort. What do you think?

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