Jewish Philosophy

The Direction of the Signpost
Date Uploaded: 
Thursday 24th July 2014

The story is told of a man who was walking along a path. His destination was the next town and he was grateful for the clear directions and signs on the way. Well before the invention of satellite positioning, these markers helped him to navigate the route.

He soon arrived at an intersection, with roads heading in different directions. There was a signpost indicating where each road would lead. Alas, the sign had fallen down, and was now lying at the side of the road. The man was in a quandary, uncertain what to do next.

Soon, a fellow traveller arrived at the junction. Responding to the man's predicament, the traveller pointed out that on the fallen sign there were also, presumably, directions to the place from where our man began his journey. "Pick up the sign and point it in the direction from where you have come. The direction of the other paths and roads will now be clear".
True progress in life works best when we look to our past. By implementing all the best advice and guidance from our parents, grandparents and from our rich Jewish history, we are better able to establish our own path – and ultimately reach the goal of a contented and meaningful life.

This sheds light on a critical passage in this week’s sidrah. In Chapter 19, the Torah outlines the regulations for one who accidentally takes the life of another human being. The accused was required to escape to a city of refuge. Only there would the accused be safe from the wrath of the grieving family.

These cities of refuge were functioning cities, where the accused was entitled to live in relative peace. They were required to be of decent size, so as not to appear isolated. Water and amenities had to be readily available.

The rules also stipulate that clearly worded and visible road signs identifying the cities of refuge were to be erected. These markers had the Hebrew word miklat (shelter) written on them, and they were installed all along the roads and highways. These signposts were regularly examined for damage and wear and tear. Any overgrown shrubbery and greenery was removed so that the signs were always visible. Every opportunity was afforded the accused to make his way to the closest city of refuge.

The placement of signs served an additional purpose. It reminded the individual of how he had fallen. Being responsible for another’s demise was indicative of neglect in one’s own behaviour - acting carelessly around others. While this individual was fleeing towards safety, he was never to forget the origins of his journey. The signs leading him further and further away from his hometown could be seen, in truth, as the story of his life.

We face new situations and experiences each day. Often we have regrets. Yet we should seek time to pause, to assess the path and route we are following in life. It is wise to occasionally redirect that signpost and make sure we are heading for a stable and fulfilling future.

CG Rabbi Title: