This week’s Parsha discusses the story of the מקושש עצים, the person who gathered wood on Shabbos in the desert. Rashi comments that this is a degrading story to the Jewish people. The Ber Yosef asks why this is degrading to the Jewish people as they did everything possible to avoid desecrating Shabbos. The Sifri explains that Moshe Rabbeinu had placed guards throughout the camp to prevent the desecration of Shabbos, and that the one person who violated Shabbos was warned and then killed. Why is this degrading to the Jewish people?
The Ber Yosef tells us that we are familiar with the idea that the first and second luchos had discrepancies. One of the more well-known of these is that in the first luchos, the pasuk reads זכור את יום השבת – remember the day of Shabbos, and in the second luchos the pasuk reads שמור את יום השבת – guard the day of Shabbos. He explains that because of this, Shabbos is different from all other mitzvos. With regard to every mitzvah, a person who does not protest when witnessing someone committing a sin will be punished; however, the actual sin is only ascribed to the person who committed the sin. The individual who did not protest is punished only for the sin of not protesting. With regard to Shabbos, the Torah uses the word שמור – to guard, which is defined as guarding the Shabbos to insure it is not desecrated, weather by the person who is actually violating Shabbos or by a witness to the violation. Just as in the situation of someone being given an object to protect, the guard would be responsible for the safety of the object in all circumstances, regardless of who damaged it. This explains the Mishna in Shabbos that describes the bull of Reb Elazar ben Azarya that went out with a strap on its horn, which is a violation of Shabbos. The Gemara explains that it was not actually his bull but, rather, his neighbor’s. Since he did not stop it, the Gemara refers to the bull as his. This is because with regard to Shabbos, we are commanded to guard it from all desecration.
This concept explains why one person’s desecrating Shabbos in the desert is considered degrading to the entire Jewish people. The Jewish people had a mitzva to guard the Shabbos to insure that it would not be desecrated. Violating Shabbos was not merely a sin for the individual who did it, but also for everyone who had the opportunity to stop him but didn’t.