At the very end of this week's Torah portion, Sh'lakh, there's a fascinating juxtaposition of passages. First, four dramatic verses concerning an episode in which the Israelites find a man transgressing the Sabbath and put him to death; then five dramatic verses containing an injunction to wear tzitzit, fringes, on our garments in order that we might be mindful of God and live righteously.
It's quite a one-two punch -- one snippet of text that appalls the contemporary sensibility, followed immediately by another which exhorts us to live up to our highest ideals. The tension between the two gave rise to this week's Radical Torah post:
But did God bring us out of Egypt to instruct us in such punitive measures as stoning to death individuals who dared to collect firewood on Shabbat? How can we reconcile the stoning of the man in the first passage (who, as far as the overt text is concerned, was given no chance to repent or change his ways) with the ethical injunction toward righteousness in the second passage, when that stoning may not look righteous to our modern eyes at all?
Read more here: Little picture, big picture.