Yitzchak Ginsburgh
Head of Gal Einai Institutes, authority on Kabbalah and Chassidut

Elul: Enter the City of Refuge

The Holy Ari, the greatest of the Kabbalists, said that the verse in Exodus that refers to a city of refuge, ‘Ina leyado v’samti lach,’ is an acronym for Elul. Before the Jewish People enter the Land of Israel, God commands Moses to designate six cities of refuge. The Torah laws of the cities of refuge are unique. If a person has accidentally killed another, he may flee to one of these cities, three on each side of the Jordan River. As long as he is within the boundaries of the city, no relatives of the deceased are allowed to harm him. If he wants to be safe, the perpetrator of this unintentional crime must remain in the city of refuge, not leaving its confines until the death of the High Priest.

The Ari says that the month of Elul in the dimension of time parallels the city of refuge in the dimension of space. Elul is a special period of time in which we can rectify whatever we did – particularly unintentional wrongs. The unintentional bad that we do comes from the subconscious, from a very deep root of which we are unaware.

Spiritually, the ultimate city of refuge is the Torah. When we run to the Torah, we express a strong will to immerse completely in its depths, taking refuge in its rectifying words. When our consciousness is totally in line with the Torah, we will no longer be vulnerable to harm, and more importantly, will no longer be in a state of mind that would allow us to hurt another, even unintentionally.

In the Talmud we learn that in Biblical times, road signs pointing to the nearest city of refuge were liberally scattered throughout the Land of Israel. Each sign had two words: Miklat Miklat (Refuge Refuge). The root of ‘miklat’ also means absorption and integration, two different dynamics.

The numerical value of miklat is 179. The value of 2 times miklat is 358, the numerical value of “Mashiach.” So we see that the road sign pointing to the city of refuge actually points one toward a new, Messianic consciousness.

When a person flees to the city of refuge — the new consciousness of Torah and particularly the inner, Messianic dimension of the Torah — he first must become totally absorbed in and enamored of it, never wanting to leave. In this primary state, the Torah encompasses his entire being and consciousness, and it is not critically important to what extent he understands all that he studies. The most important inner sense for him to develop is that this infinite, Divine light and wisdom has been given to him as an undeserved gift. The more that a person develops this sense, the more that he becomes absorbed into the Messianic Torah consciousness.

In order for his new Messianic consciousness to remain an eternal part of his being, protecting him from harm and from harming others, the person must redirect his experience, consciously integrating it into his being. (The desire to integrate the object of one’s love and desire into his being is the logical second stage of this process).

The classic text of Chassidut, Tanya, explains that only the Torah can fully surround a person while simultaneously being fully within him. This is because the wisdom of the Torah is infinite. (In the case of finite wisdom, either the person does not understand it, in which case the wisdom surrounds him, or he totally understands it, in which case the wisdom is within him. As it is finite, it cannot surround him and be within him simultaneously.)

Only infinite wisdom includes both dynamics of absorption and integration.

When we run to the city of refuge of the month of Elul, we are absorbed into the inner, Messianic dimension of the Torah, and integrate it into our souls. We enter into a state of Messianic consciousness, which will rectify our souls and bring true redemption to the entire world.

About the Author
Rabbi Ginsburgh was born in S. Louis, Missouri in 1944. He initially pursued an academic career in mathematics and philosophy, later studying Torah under the guidance of several great sages–most notably, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rabbi Ginsburgh made Aliyah to Israel in 1965. His familiarity with mathematics, science, philosophy, psychology and music has enabled him to lecture throughout Israel, relating the ancient wisdom of Torah to many currents trends in academic thought and art.
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