When describing the escape of an accidental killer to a City of Refuge, the Torah says that he will run to one of the cities and live (see Devarim 4:42). The Gemara on today’s daf understands that the idea that he will “live” implies an active life and not just avoidance of death at the hands of the “blood avenger.” Thus, we learn that when a student is exiled to an ir miklat, his teacher must accompany him there. Similarly, Rabbi Yoḥanan teaches that when a teacher is exiled to an ir miklat, his students must go into exile with him, as well.
The Iyun Ya’akov suggests that although at first appearance we might think that a teacher brings his students with him because without the interaction of study his life would become bleak and void of meaning, this cannot be the case, since we do not find that the Torah requires other friends to join the accidental killer in exile. He suggests that this must be a punishment of sorts for the students who chose to study with a teacher whose morals must be lacking inasmuch as he became involved in this killing, albeit accidental.
Rabbeinu Yehonatan argues that these rules relate specifically to Torah teaching, since the Torah is compared to – and essentially considered to be – “life” (see Devarim 30:20).
The Gemara asks how Rabbi Yoḥanan could possibly require a teacher to go into exile with his students, given that we have another teaching in the name of Rabbi Yoḥanan where he suggests that Torah study itself could serve the purpose of exile/refuge, given the juxtaposition of the laws of the Cities of Refuge (Devarim 4:41-43) to the passage “And this is the law which Moses set before the children of Israel” (Devarim 4:44). (Clearly, as the Ritva notes, the Gemara at first assumes that this statement of Rabbi Yoḥanan is to be understood literally.)
Two answers are offered by the Gemara:
- The protection of Torah study would only suffice during the actually learning, but not when they stopped learning.
- Rabbi Yoḥanan’s statement did not mean to assert that Torah study offered the protection of an ir miklat, rather that it offered protection from the Angel of Death who cannot take a person’s soul while they are occupied in learning Torah.