It is not generally my custom here to comment on the weekly readings of the bible, but this weeks portion (Numbers 13-15) records too important a segment of the Pentateuchal saga to overlook. I wish only to make a few general observations (which are not very different from the observations I've made on this weeks portion in previous years):
1) The Sin of the Scouts: Notice that it was the leaders of each tribe that brought back negative reports regarding the land G-d had promised to our forefathers. It is likely to assume that many of the Israelites looked up to the leaders of their tribes as much as they did to Moses, or even more so (since they even considered stoning Moses and returning to Egypt), which is why the Israelites believed the reports of these elders. Displayed, therefore, is an early example of "Gedolim" being quite mistaken in their opinions regarding the holy land. Surely us, as they, should not heed misguided individuals such as these, notwithstanding their social/religious prominence.
2) The Gatherer of Wood: Putting Midrashic interpretations and the like aside, which usually tend to see the gatherer in a light of malicious intent, I prefer to consider this individual in the worst case scenario: It was Shabbat afternoon and he was already aware that a very cold desert night was on it's way, yet he had no wood with which to warm his families tent. He chose to be "responsible" and find wood over the new religious considerations that were then being dictated to the people. The next day he was, by Divine command, stoned to death for this action, even though his heart was relatively pure, and his only will was to save his loved ones from discomfort. To me, one of the lessons of this event is that a full dedication is required for G-d's commands, even in the face great discomfort and a lack of a full understanding of the command. The proper course, for example, for this man to have taken would obviously be to refrain from collecting the wood, even though he and his family would have no protection from the desert cold that night, as well as a lack of cooking fuel, and even though the Divine commands had not yet fully taken hold in the minds of the Israelites.
3) Fringes: Any act to which a Divine command has been attached becomes sanctified with the holiness of G-d. What is important is not the physical content of the action, but the symbolism that G-d sees in it. Even something as insignificant as adding fringes on ones garment can be a reminder of "all the commandments of G-d" (15:39), and a deterrent from sin, if only we view it through "G-d's eyes".
Hm. None of this seems to make any sense. ..it made sense in my mind. I don't know where I went wrong..