Until when will an accidental killer be required to remain in exile in the City of Refuge?
The Torah is clear on this point. As taught in Sefer Bamidbar (35:25, 28), the killer must remain in the ir miklat until the death of the kohen gadol. The Mishna on today’s daf notes that this leads to an interesting custom – the mothers of the kohanim would supply food and clothing to those exiled killers so that they would not pray that the kohen would die – or, according to some versions, to encourage them to pray that the kohen would have a long life.
The Gemara asks why there would be any reason for the kohen’s mother to be concerned that the accidental killers would pray that her son would die when Sefer Mishlei (26:2) clearly teaches that a baseless curse will have no effect. In response the Gemara quotes an elderly gentleman who reported that when attending Rava’s lectures he learned that the prayers and curses of the killers confined to the Cities of Refuge may not be in vain, since the kohen gadol should have been responsible to pray on behalf of the community for mercy, so that no murder should transpire, and perhaps his prayers could have kept these incidents from taking place. Given that the omission of the kohen gadol’s prayers may have played a role in the killers’ exile, their prayers may, in fact, be effective.
The Maharsha explains that these laws are connected with the High Priest because he is responsible to pray on behalf of the entire Jewish people when he enters the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. Among his prayers should be a request that no mishap or misfortune take place. The Maharal explains that as the leader – the heart and head – of the Jewish people, the kohen gadol is effectively responsible for all that takes place.