והיה אשר תותירו מהם לשכים בעיניכם ולצנינם בצדיכם וצררו אתכם
That those whom you allow to remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall harass you in the land where you live
In the Midrash (Numbers Rabbah 23:9) it is written: This refers to what Scripture says (Job 35:11) “מלפנו מבהמות ארץ ומעוף השמים יחכמנו” (who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth, and makes us wiser than the birds of the air?)
This Midrash requires interpretation, and our master explains it by referring to what the gaon the Hatan Sofer wrote about the verse in which Jacob said to Esau (Genesis 33:10): “כראת פני אלקים וַתרצני” (for truly seeing your face is like seeing the face of God, with such favor have you received me), asking how the chosen of the fathers could have spoken so insincerely? But he answered that there are two ways in which a person may be aroused to love and reverence the Eternal. First (Proverbs 13:20): “הולך את חכמים יחכם” (He who walks with wise men shall become wise). Second, when he sees the wickedness of the wicked, he will despise them and their dirty deeds to the utmost degree and, so long as he lives, will avoid any action that resembles their actions. As King David said (Psalms 119:98): “מאיבי תחכמני” (Thy commandment makes me wiser than my enemies). And this, according to our master, is the meaning of the mishnah in Avot (4:1): “Who is a wise man (i.e., one who can maintain forever the strength of his wholeheartedness)? One who learns (to do good) from every man (even from the deeds of the wicked and foolish).
But the capacity to learn from everyone is possessed only by those who are exalted, whose longings are only for the Eternal. Whatever they see arouses them only to do good. However, those who are average or below average may well be seduced and fall into the trap set by their evil inclination, so that when they see the misdeeds of others they will say: “let me also act in this way.” That is why it is necessary to destroy evil from the land, or at least to chase the wicked so far away that their evil deeds cannot be seen, for a man cannot live in the company of a serpent. The benefit of keeping the wicked nearby in order to see their abominations and to despise them would not be worth the damage resulting from their bad example. For can we not see in the lower creatures strange things and indecent traits that are revolting to the soul of a person? Nor, since these creatures are incapable of speech, would we entertain any thought of turning after them.
This is the meaning of the verse (Numbers 33:52-55) “Then you shall drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones . . . But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as pricks in your eyes.” The intent of the verse is that, should you say “those that I will let remain in the land will be for me, on account of their abominations, as pricks in my eyes from which I will learn to do what is good,” the Scripture replies that not only will you not learn to do what is good from them, but on the contrary, “וצררו אתכם” (they will harass you). Instead of teaching you, they will draw you away from the path of goodness. And should you ask, “from where will I learn to abominate and despise what is evil?” Concerning this question, the Midrash quotes the verse: “Who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth, and makes us wiser than the fowls of heaven?” It is from them that you should learn to despise what is evil and to choose what is good.” (שביבי אש)
צו בני ישראל ונתנו ללוים מנחלת אחזתם ערים לשבת
Command the people of Israel, that they give to the Levites of the inheritance of their possession cities to live in
In Tosafot (Berakhot 20b, s.v. nashim) it is written that the Levites and the priests did not take any portion of the land. A sage once asked our master: “Does the Scripture not explicitly say here that the Levites did take cities and two thousand cubits of open land around the cities?” Our master replied that here the Scripture is commanding Israel to give the Levites cities from their inheritance. But although the children of Israel inherited all the land, they were commanded to give the Levites land from their own holdings. That is why the Levites, unlike the other tribes, had no prince who distributed the territories on which their cities were built. And this is clear. (שביבי אש)
וישב בה עד מות הכהן הגדל
And he shall live there until the death of the high priest
Rashi comments: Another explanation for his staying in the city of refuge until the high priest’s death: Because the high priest should have prayed that this misfortune might never happen in Israel in his days.
If this is so, then the high priest is being punished along with the murderer inasmuch as the murderer is praying for the high priest to die, so that he can return home. We find in this a correct reason for why the mishnah (Makot 1:1) teaches that conspiring witnesses who falsely testified that someone murdered unintentionally receive lashes instead of being exiled to a city of refuge as they conspired to do to their brother. That they receive lashes rather than exile is derived in the Gemara either from a Scriptural text or from a fortiori reasoning (קל וחומר). But according to what has been said, we could not punish the witnesses by exile to a city of refuge until the death of the high priest, for if they sinned and gave false testimony, how was the high priest at fault? No misfortune occurred and no man was killed, so why should these two pray for his death? Nor could we condemn them to an indeterminate exile independent of the life of the high priest, because the exile imposed on the witnesses would then not be like the exile that they had sought to impose on the defendant. (שביבי אש)