There certainly is a level of ambivalence in the Torah when it comes to blood revenge. The first reference to blood revenge appears in Genesis 4:10, 12. Rather than Cain being killed for the murder of Abel he is banished, and assurances given that he won’t be murdered by another. Following this tradition we are introduced to the cities of refuge mentioned four times in the Torah: Exodus 21:13; Deuteronomy 4:41-43 and Deuteronomy 19:1-13 and in this weeks reading, Numbers 35:9-34.
Notwithstanding these four references to Cities of Refuge and the very first reference in Genesis against the idea of blood revenge we also find in this weeks reading provisions for the Goel Hadam, the blood avenger. What does Torah prefer: Blood Revenge or its avoidance by establishing the Cities of refuge?
The Goel Hadam is rooted in Genesis 9:6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man; by man shall his blood be shed”. Without going into detail as to how and when the Goel Hadam may operate we can see that there is ambivalence as to the value in preserving life as seen in the need for Cities of Refuge and the need for taking life by the Goel Hadam. According to M.D.Cassuto, it would appear that the Torah shows a tendency to reduce and minimize the incidents of the Goel Hadam. He refers back to Genesis 4:15 where Torah gives opposition to blood avenging preferring human judges acting in God’s name, not relatives acting in anger.
If Torah discourages the blood vengeance than why do we have a parsha of Goel Hadam? Again Casuto believes that Torah is providing the apparatus by which we are to be weaned off of Goel Hadam. In essence concessions were made to us as long as we were in the developmental stage. We have other examples of this. The Rambam speaks of this in great length when referencing commandments referring to the yifat toar, the eved ivri, and sacrificial worship. They are all, according to the Rambam, examples of concessions.
This would bear out and explain Nehama Leibowitz’ puzzling comment in Studies in Devarim when she says “ It will perhaps sound odd to the reader to learn that the commandments of the Torah are not absolute…These dispensations, concessions to human frailty that they are, so long as man has not yet achieved the ideal of ‘all of them shall know me’, constitute the greatness of Torah.