While Moses was barred from crossing the Jordan and entering the land promised to his forefathers, he did merit to lead the conquest and then the settlement of the lands east of the Jordan. Thus, he merited to begin the process of settling his beloved people in the Promised Land, concluding his life’s mission.

Then, just a few weeks before his passing, Moses designated three cities of refuge in the lands east of the Jordan, to serve as a safe haven for anyone who killed another unintentionally:

Then Moses decided to separate three cities on the side of the Jordan towards the sunrise, so that a murderer might flee there, he who murders his fellow man unintentionally, but did not hate him in time past, that he may flee to one of these cities, and he will live.1

Those last words “and he will live” teach us, says the Talmud, that we must not only provide a place for the unintentional murderer to flee, but that it must be a place that is conducive to and can support a life:

These cities of refuge . . . should be medium-size towns; they are to be established only in the vicinity of a water supply . . . they are to be established only where there are marketplaces. What is the verse [that teaches us these laws]? The verse states: "And he shall flee to one of these cities and live," which means—we must provide him with arrangements that will enable him to live.2

This idea—that we must provide an environment that will enable the unintentional murderer to live—leads to another law. As Maimonides explains:

When a student is exiled to a city of refuge, his teacher is exiled together with him. This is derived from the verse which states: "He shall flee to one of these cities, and he shall live."3 Implied is that everything necessary for his life must be provided for him.

Therefore, a student must be provided with his teacher, for the life of one who possesses knowledge and seeks it without Torah study is considered to be death.4

This law is astonishing. Granted, there are a select few for whom life without knowledge of Torah is like life without water—and perhaps we would be obliged to force their teachers to move into the city of refuge so that they would be able to “live”—but how can we apply this law to all students? Can we indeed say that every last student is a person who “possesses knowledge and seeks it” to the extent that a life without Torah “is considered to be death”?

The answer, of course, is a resounding yes.

We look at ourselves, we look at our children, we look at our students, and we sometimes tell ourselves that we are superficial beings. That we care about materialism more than wisdom and spiritual enlightenment. We look at a student making trouble in a classroom and we think, this child will never make a good student, or, this child will never understand. This attitude, says the Talmud, is a terrible mistake. The student making trouble, although he is not yet a “possessor of wisdom,” is, at heart, a “seeker of wisdom.” Deep down, he is a person to whom spiritual wisdom is not just an enjoyable luxury but an absolute necessity.

We are all teachers in life. When we come across a child—or a grownup who is spiritually still a child—it is our obligation to see “the seeker of wisdom” within this child. We must reveal the spark and essence within, helping the child discover the beauty of a life imbued with wisdom. Thus, the child himself will discover that he is a “seeker of wisdom.”5