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Daily manna from the Torah by Dr Ketriel Blad

Balak 40-7


Numbers 24:15 25:9

So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the LORD's anger burned against them. The LORD said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the LORD's fierce anger may turn away from Israel." So Moses said to Israel's judges, "Each of you must put to death those of your men who have joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor."

Num. 25:3-5 NIV

Why is there public death penalty for certain sins?

The people's idolatry ignited the Eternal's wrath against them such that He unleashed a plague to exterminate them. Maimonides stresses the fact that all the instances in which the Torah mentions that the Eternal's wrath burns against His people it was because of idolatry.

The Eternal ordered Moshe to act radically in order to placate His wrath. It's interesting to see that on the one hand the Eternal's anger burns against His people and on the other, He instructs Moshe on how to drive His anger away. This teaches us that the Eternal acts in strict justice together with vast mercy. The people didn't deserve to be saved from this plague, but through the Eternal's mercy there was a way. However, this way was very radical. It was to execute the sinners in public not only to take away the Eternal's anger, but also to teach the people the severity of this sin so they would fear and never commit it again.

What did the Eternal command Moshe rabbenu to do? There are two ways of understanding this text. The first one is presented by Rashi and it teaches that Moshe had to summon the courts to judge and dictate death sentence to all those who surrendered to that idolatrous fornication.

The other explanation is that HaShem ordered the execution of all the people's chiefs that worshipped the Baal of Peor in front of everyone so that all of them could see the severity of their sin. Leaders who surrender to sin must be the first ones to be judged, not the people. If a leader commits a sin in public, he must be judged in public so that the people learn to fear the consequences of sin and to fear the Eternal.

In any case, those fornication and idolatry sins brought severe consequences upon the people and 4% of the counted population died - that is, one of every 25 people.

That's why there are two strong admonitions in the Messianic Scriptures instructing to flee from these two very grave sins. In 1 Corinthians 6:18a it's written: "Flee fornication." (KJV) And in 1 Corinthians 10:14 it's written: "Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry."(NKJV)

May the Eternal, who is good, instill fear in our hearts so that we don't sin against Him, becoming a bad example for the sacred people.

Shabbat shalom,


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