וכל העם ישמעו ויראו ולא יזידון עוד (17:13)
When a person is convicted of a capital crime, the execution is carried out in a public manner. Rashi writes that the Sanhedrin waited to carry out the execution until the next Yom Tov, when people would travel to Yerushalayim to fulfill the mitzvah of aliyah l'regel (ascending to the Temple), so that everybody would hear and talk about it. This was to inspire maximum fear in the populace in the hopes that future executions would become unnecessary.
However, the Mishnah in Makkos (7a) quotes the opinion of Rav Elozar ben Azaria, who maintains that a Sanhedrin which carries out one execution in 70 years is considered violent and bloody. If executions were so infrequent, how were they able to accomplish the desired deterrent effect?
Rav Aharon Bakst answers that this question may be asked only by one who has become accustomed and desensitized to the loss of human life. In the times of the Beis HaMikdash, the Jewish nation understood and appreciated the value of every person and every life to the extent that one public execution in 70 years caused such a national trauma that another one became superfluous for at least that long. If we appreciated life with the proper perspective, we would be so shaken up by events like the Holocaust and recent tragedies in Israel that they would remain in our collective memory forever, inspiring us to proper repentance and rendering future reminders unnecessary.
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