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   by Jacob Solomon

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The later part of the parasha deals with idolatry. Firstly unintentionally, and then intentionally, where:

A person who deliberately… reviles G-d; his soul shall be cut off from his people. For he has despised the word of G-d, and broken His commandment… his sin is upon him (15:30-31).

This is immediately followed by the famous story of the man put to death for Sabbath desecration (following 'he that profanes it shall die' - Ex. 31:14).

The Israelites were in the desert. They found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron… They placed him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. (Then) G-d said to Moses… 'That man must be stoned to death (15:32-35).

Rashi (to 15:41) examines the connection between intentional idolatry and Sabbath desecration. He explains that the Torah puts those particular two sins together because they both share the same concept. Just as the idolater denies the sovereignty of G-d, so does one who flouts the Sabbath - which testifies to G-d's Creation of the universe.

In addition, it may be suggested that passage on idolatry tells us something about the context of the capital offence of the man who was gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Following the simple reading of the text, the person was 'found' gathering wood. Not in public, just in his own back yard. But the previous words: 'for he has despised the word of G-d and broken His commandment' indicates that he might have been gathering wood for a different reason. There was an 'agenda'. He wanted to put G-d to the test by acting 'b'yad rama' - intentionally, haughtily and deliberately. Would G-d indeed strike him dead for desecrating the Sabbath, under 'he that profanes (the Sabbath) shall die'? If not, he reasoned, G-d might not be as omniscient as the people supposed…

As his 'experiment' incorporated 'for he has despised the word of G-d', it was not clear what to do. Should he be kept in custody for G-d to punish him in due course, or were the people themselves to act on G-d's behalf?

G-d's answer was indicative of how he wanted the courts to act in all matters in the future. 'That man must be stoned to death' - according to the Law of Moses - under the human court. For the Torah 'is not in Heaven' (Deut. 30:12), but 'in your mouth, your heart, to carry it out' (Deut. 30:14). Man is not to test whether G-d will fight His own battles with those who put Him to the test in that way. The Torah is on this earth - Man has to do what he has to do. He cannot turn round and tell G-d to 'fight His own battles', but to take appropriate action.

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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