Sticks and Stones on Sabbath

Parashat Shlach (Numbers 15)

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Many of us learned this somewhat outdated rhyme growing up.

Contrast its claim with a verse from Proverbs:

sticks stones

Proverbs 18:21 teaches us that life and death are in the power of the tongue. Words do have the power to harm.Harsh, hate-filled words can hurt us and can leave us pretty scarred. On the flip side, words can be life-giving and confidence-building, a source of blessing.

Obviously, the childhood rhyme intends to help a child overcome being teased with the reassurance that childish name-calling usually excludes physical harm.

Unfortunately, our own words can come back to bite us. Sometimes we harm ourselves by the foolish things we say. A careless thought can become a careless word, for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.

"A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks."  Luke 6:45 

Care must be taken to cultivate a life of kindness, goodness, and self-control, led by the Holy Spirit (Ruach haKodesh), so that the demeanor of the believer becomes more righteous in outlook and attitude rather than maintaining the self-serving posture of the natural man.

Lashon Hara in Parashat Beha’alotcha

When an individual fails to speak in a righteous manner, he or she risks committing sin known as lashon hara. Lashon hara means “evil tongue” or “wicked talk” and is considered a grave sin in Judaic thought, and for good reason. If you follow Parashat readings, you will recall that in last week’s selection, Parashat Beha’alotcha, Miryam was punished by God because she disapproved of her brother Moshe’s marriage to a Cushite woman and spoke against him (Numbers 12:1, 10).

Miryam ended up with leprosy.

Lashon hara engages the realm of death and brings curse right along with it. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik aptly wrote “Death is the symbol of the most intense defilement; therefore, he who is holy unto his Lord must keep away from such defilement.” (Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, 32).

Most Christians have never so much as heard of lashon hara let alone tried to refrain from it. Simplistic sermons lightly address gossip, but most churches “thrive” on the gossip mill and abuse the doctrine of grace.

Scripture calls us to a much higher plane.

As called out, set-apart people, followers of Messiah should emulate Him. Yeshua (Jesus) was careful with His words, and we should be, as well. He, of course, knew Torah, and would have been entirely familiar with passages such as Numbers 15:30-31. In it, the reader is cautioned, that “the person who sins defiantly, whether native or outsider, reviles Adonai and that person is to be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the word of Adonai and has broken His commandment, that person will certainly be cut off—his guilt will remain on him.”

Regardless of whether or not Miryam was justified in her opinion, evil speech could not be tolerated under the Law as it would lead to defilement, a state of being in which the offender could not rightly appear before the Holy One. Ultimately, lashon hara leads to destruction, so it must be dealt with immediately, at its source. As Paul (Sha’ul) said, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!” (Rom.6:1-2a).

shlach verse

Keep Parashat Beha’alotcha in mind as you study Parashat Shlach

In Numbers 15:32, an unnamed fellow is stoned for collecting sticks and stones on the Sabbath day.

Yes, you read that right. Stoned. To. Death.


Consider this:

Have you ever worked on a Saturday?

Have you ever tidied up your house or done some yard work on the Sabbath?

Miryam became a leper, but this man was immediately put to death.

What is the difference between their transgressions?

Miryam’s lashon hara sin was directed at Moses.

The unknown guy’s Sabbath-violating sin was directed right at the Holy One.

32 While Bnei-Yisrael were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the Shabbat.

33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses, Aaron and the entire assembly. 34 They kept him under arrest, not being clear what was to be done to him.

35 Adonai said to Moses, “The man has to die. The whole assembly is to stone him with stones outside the camp.” 36 So the whole assembly took him outside the camp. They stoned him with stones. He died just as Adonai commanded Moses.

Numbers 15:32-36

Miryam endured a status of defilement as a punishment, but the unnamed man truly, in a sense, selected defilement – as a choice. He did not concern himself with things above, but lived for the moment and disregarded God’s commandments.

The man is not named because he could be any of us

Why is gathering wood on Shabbat such a horrible thing?

Well, to put it into everyday language: it was like shaking your fist at your Creator.

  1. “I don’t need You or Your Shabbat.”

2. “I don’t have time for You or for Your Shabbat.”

3. “I don’t care about the parameters in which I am to live.”

The work involved with gathering wood suggests the man was planning to start a fire, likely to cook a meal. These are all prohibitions outlined by the Torah as violations of the Holy Sabbath.

Shabbat is intended to be a divine appointment

The LORD has commanded us to keep His Sabbath, and to keep it Holy because it is a set-apart time for us to pause, rest, reflect, and enter into communion with our Father. It is intended to be a blessing, not a burden; but in today’s fast-paced world, it can be a challenge to keep Shabbat.

It has been said that if we truly understood how glorious it is to meet with Adonai on Shabbat, we would never dare to disrespect that time. We would never miss that sacred appointment and we would choose to strive for purity of thought, word, and deed, that we would never be defiled and unable to come before His throne.

Our lives depend upon us being in communication and right relationship with our Savior, the One who washes us and declares us clean.

The man being stoned to death for dishonoring the Sabbath is an illustration for us.

Underneath that pile of stones laid a man who had no understanding of his need for a relationship with his Maker. Bruised and buried, that man represents all of those who do not yet understand that Messiah has come – that Messiah was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities so that we might live and never die.

May you be inspired to seek a greater communion with the Eternal One, the Lord of the Sabbath. May you guard your lips, for this protects your life, (Proverbs 13:3) and may you be blessed to be a blessing!

I hope this teaching has inspired you, challenged you, or otherwise blessed you! Leave a comment below and please consider joining the Adonai Shalom email list today!

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