When the Torah commands the establishment of cities of refuge in Eretz Yisra'el to protect accidental murderers from vengeful relatives it states that the three cities must be evenly placed (וְשִׁלַּשְׁתָּ) to maximize the population's access to them. A couple sentences later it says that when the borders of the land are expanded, three more cities should be added to this set of three. When the borders did expand, were the original three repositioned to maximize their centralization in the larger area?

  • I am not sure, but I think that we learn that the mitzvah of setting up the ari miklat did not actually take place until the land was conquered in its entirety, and there was no movement of the original cities. – soandos May 24 '11 at 23:04
  • Ramba"n on the spot says the mitzva took effect after the conquest, as you said, but does that not mean the immediate conquest in the time of Y'hoshu'a? – WAF May 24 '11 at 23:06
  • I am inclined to say yes it does, but still, all six were built/designated/sanctified at the same time. There is also a perush somewhere that says that in the times of mashiach there will be another three cities. Perhaps this is where he gets that idea. I am very sure that in the times of king david's conquest, where the kingdom expanded greatly, they did not move the cities. I also seem to recall a gemara in macot (sorry don't remember where) that talks about that it means that they were meshulash, and where they were. It does not seem to be a geographic or exact positioning though. – soandos May 24 '11 at 23:10
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    Even in the times of Shlomo (described in I Kings ch. 5, which you linked to), when the borders of Eretz Yisrael expanded to the full extent described in Num. 34, verse 5 there speaks of the Jews "dwelling securely... from Dan to Beersheba." So the bulk of Jewish settlement was still within the area conquered by Yehoshua; for that reason alone there was probably no need to designate different cities. – Alex May 25 '11 at 3:29

When the Jews conquered Canaan, they were effectively fulfilling God's promise as described in Devarim 7:1 by the destruction of the seven nations listed there.

However, in His promise to Avraham, ten nations are specified (Bereshis 16:19-21). Traditionally, the extra three nations' demise are believed to be referring not to the time of Yehoshua's conquering of the land, but to the Messianic era.

Ramban believes that this is what is meant by "ואם ירחיב יהוה אלהיך את גבלך כאשר נשבע לאבתיך", that is, the conquering of those three nations in the times of Mashiach, or in Ramban's language, "יורה על כל הימים העתידים לבוא".

As Ramban is not entirely clear there with his intention, I'll include Abarbanel's explanation of his interpretation, which is much clearer (in my opinion):

ואם ירחיב ה׳ אלקיך את גבולך כאשר נשבע לאבותיך. היטיב הרב רבי משה בר נחמן לראות שפרשה זו עתידה. ואמר שג' הערים יצטרך להבדיל אחרי כבוש הארצות וירושתם בארץ. אבל כאשר ירחיב ה׳ את גבולם כאשר נשבע לאבותם לתת להם כשיתן להם את הארץ אשר דבר לאבותם שהיא הקני הקניזי והקדמוני שנדר הקדוש ברוך הוא לאברהם אז יתחייבו ישראל להוסיף עוד שלש ערי מקלט אחרות. והנה אמר בתנאי ירושת הארץ כי תשמור לעשות את כל המצות הזאת לעשותה אשר אנכי מצוך היום לאהבה את ה׳ אלהיך, להגיד להם כי ארץ שבעה העממים תכבש על ידי משה ויהושע. ולכן יהיה חיוב שלש הערים הראשונים מוטל עליהם מעתה. אבל ארץ הקני והקניזי והקדמוני לא יירשו כי אם בביאת הגואל יגלה במהרה בימינו ושזה יהיה על ידי קיום המצות כי אם יקיימום מיד יהיו נגאלים כמו שאמר (תהלים צ״ה) היום אם בקולו תשמעו

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    Rambam (Hil. Rotze'ach 8:4 and Hil. Melachim 11:2) also states that this refers to Moshiach's times. In the latter place, in fact, he uses this as a prooftext from the Torah that there will be a Messianic era. – Alex May 25 '11 at 3:26

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