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Meaning of Go’el Hadam

In the teaching of the rambam on retzicha and shmirat hanefesh, I have great difficulty offering a rationale for goel hadam. Since halacha is so civilised, and both refined and refining, how does one explain such an apparently vengeful and crude series of halachos. Last time I had this difficulty was the yefas toar, where “the Torah speaks against the Yetzer Hora.” Any suggestions please?


This is a good question, and many have been bothered by it.

Some explain that the concept of go’el hadam is similar to the idea of yefas to’ar. The desire for vengeance is one of the strongest of natural desires, and the Torah therefore makes a compromise of sorts: It gives the family the basic right to avenge the death of their beloved, yet also arranges for the escape of the (inadvertant) murderer.

However, this explanation is difficult, because there are opinions that it is actually a mitzvah for the go’el hadam to kill the murderer (see Ramban, additions to Sefer Hamitzvos no. 13), and this certainly doesn’t match the explanation of giving a vent to natural tendencies. Moreover, if there is no go’el hadam, beis din actually appoint a go’el hadam (see Sanhedrin 45b), indicating again that this isn’t a matter of placating the natural dispositions of men.

Rather, we must accept this as a Torah mitvzah, which sees value in the blood of the victim being “redeemed.” The simple rationale behind the instruction is to instill fear in the hearts of would-be accidental murderers, inspiring people to take care when doing things that might involve danger to others. In a deeper sense, note the word “redeemer,” and not “avenger,” indicating that some deeper, spiritual rectification takes place by means of the go’el hadam (see Vedarashta Vechakarta, Choshen Mishpat 10).

Beyond this, but I do not know.

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