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5770 - #24

Pesach

THE FIRST PESACH IN ISRAEL


            Rashi, Bamidbar 9:1 informs us that the offering of the korban Pesach in the second year in the desert was the only time during the desert sojourn that the nation brought the Paschal sacrifice. In a certain way this would seem to be supported by the events described regarding the first Pesach in Israel. We are told that the first directive given to Yehoshua upon crossing the Jordan River and entering Eretz Yisrael was to circumcise the men of Israel as mila, circumcision, was not done during the forty years in the desert.1 As one not circumcised could not bring the korban Pesach,2 the fact that the men were only circumcised upon entering Israel would seem to support this assertion – that, subsequent to the second year in the desert, the korban Pesach was not brought. Indeed, Tosfot, Kiddushin 37b, d.h. Ho’il presents as one reason why the Pesach was not done in the desert this very fact that the men were not circumcised. It was only subsequent to this mass circumcision of the men of the nation by Yehoshua that the nation was then able to bring the korban Pesach in Israel.

            The question must be asked, though: why did the nation not circumcise their sons in the desert? Yevamot 71b, 72a presents two answers: both reflecting the fact that the traveling in the desert created a situation that made the practice of circumcision medically problematic. Malbim, Yehoshua 5:4, however, presents a problem with the basis of these answers in that the midrash states that the Bnei Levi still continued to circumcise their sons in the desert. If they continued to circumcise their sons, why did the rest of Bnei Yisrael not do so and if it was medically necessary not to perform circumcision,3 how could Bnei Levi continue to do so?4 Regardless of how one answers this question, the further question would be: why did the Bnei Levi, and others who must have already been circumcised before the desert journey, not bring the korban Pesach during the other years in the desert?5

            The second reason presented by the Tosfot in Kiddushin as to why the Pesach was not offered in the desert would actually also answer this query. It is contended that according to the view that the mitzvah of korban Pesach was one of those commandments which only became obligatory once Am Yisrael had conquered and divided the land. As such, no korban Pesach was brought during the years in the desert because there was no obligation. So why then did they bring the korban Pesach mentioned in parshat Beha’alotcha? Tosfot argues that this offering in the desert, and the bringing of the korban Pesach in Yehoshua, were unique, one-time mitzvot al pi hadibur, specifically commanded by God for this time and not part of the general command for the generations to bring the korban Pesach.

            This view would actually seem to find support in the words of Yehoshua 5:2, specifically the word sheinit which can be translated as ‘again’ or ‘a second time’. Why would the verse refer to this being a second circumcision when, in fact, it was the first (and only) circumcision for these individuals. Rashi explains that what the verse means is that is was the second case of a mass circumcision, the first one being in Egypt. Both occurred in relation to the first Pesach in Israel and the original Pesach in Egypt: there was a mass circumcision of the nation preceding the bringing of the Paschal sacrifice. This would seem to imply a unique connection between the original korban Pesach in Egypt and the korban Pesach brought by Yehoshua upon entering Eretz Yisrael. The implication may be that this first korban Pesach in Israel was not simply a commemoration of the korban Pesach in Egypt, which would then be practiced in the future through the generations. This korban Pesach may be inherently bound to the original korban marking the full breadth of Yetziat Mitzrayim.

            According to this view in Tosfot, there are three korbanot Pesach that have a unique identity: the first one in Egypt, the second one brought during Pesach of the second year in the desert while the nation was still camped around Har Sinai, and the third one brought when the nation entered Israel and celebrated Pesach. What may be important to note regarding these three events is that they were also all destined to occur even if the nation did not sin in listening to the spies and were thus punished to journey the desert for 40 years. These three events were actually all part of the original Exodus plan. The nation on departing Egypt had to attend at Har Sinai and accept the Torah; they furthermore had to camp around that mountain for an additional time engrossed in the study of Torah. As evidenced by the word v’heiveiti,6 "and I will bring you," the culmination of the removal of the nation from Egypt was to bring them into the Land of Israel. From this perspective, one could contend that the bringing of these Paschal sacrifices on the 14th of Nissan of these years were not in commemoration of the Exodus but part of the very marking of the Exodus. The other years in the desert were sore aberrations of the original Exodus intention and, as such, in that the nation was not settled in the land the korban Pesach could not be brought, as would be commanded for the generations in order to commemorate the Exodus, nor could it be brought as part of the overall Exodus experience. This was the special nature of these other, signified korbanot of this nature. They expressed the Exodus. And this was also part of the uniqueness of the first korban Pesach in the land.                              Rabbi Benjamin Hecht

 


Footnotes

1 See, Yehoshua 5:8.

2 See Chinuch, Mitzvah 17. This applies even if the lack of mila is halachically mandated such as when two previous brothers died as a result.

3 meaning that it was life threatening.

4 Malbim himself answers the question by stating that the behaviour of the Bnei Levi was actually the correct one and then explaining why the actions of the rest of Bnei Yisrael was tolerated. This answer, though, is in itself problematic in that we are talking of the Dor De’ah, the generation that accepted the Torah. I was told that the Chatam Sofer answers this question by stating that the absence of the North Wind which, according to one view in the gemara in Yevamot was the reason it was medically unsafe to circumcise in the desert, was not experienced by the Bnei Levi. It was thus safe for them to circumcise their sons. In that Rashi, Yevamot 72a explains that this removal of the North Wind was a punishment for the sin of the Golden Calf, the Chatam Sofer’s conclusion would seem to follow in that the Bnei Levi did not participate in that sin. Tosfot, Yevamot 72a, d.h. Mishum, however, mentions that the removal of the North Wind was a punishment for the sin of the spies. One is thus led to wonder, pursuant to this perspective, whether it could also be argued that the Bnei Levi did not participate in this sin either as none of the spies were from this tribe. Malbim actually seems to say this.

5 I did see one comment that said that the Bnei Levi and these others did, in fact, bring the korban Pesach and when it says that the nation only brought this korban in the second year, it means that this was the only time that the nation as a whole properly brought this korban during the desert experience. See Tosfot, Ibid.

6 Shemot 6:8.

Nishma 2010


 

  


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2010 NISHMA