By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
16 Sivan 5764 - June 4, 2004
With the first anniversary of the Exodus approaching, the
Children of Israel are commanded regarding Pesach:
And Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, in the second year of
their exodus from the land of Egypt, in the first month, saying, “And the
Children of Israel will make the Pesach at its time. On the fourteenth day of
this month in the afternoon shall they make it at its time, according to all
its statutes and according to all its laws shall you make it.” And Moshe spoke
to the Children of Israel to make the Pesach. And they made the Pesach in the
first [month], on the fourteenth day of the month, in the afternoon, in the
wilderness of Sinai; according to all that Hashem commanded Moshe, so did the
Children of Israel do (Bamidbar 9:1-5).
What follows is the incident of those people who, due to tumah, could not
offer the Pesach sacrifice. Subsequently, Moshe taught the nation about Pesach
However, we will focus on the above admonition to offer the Pesach sacrifice
in the wilderness. The Torah does not record any reminders before other
festivals. Why does Hashem prompt the people only about Pesach? Moreover,
according to Ramban, this command is concerned exclusively with the Pesach
sacrifice, and does not at all pertain to the seven days of Pesach. (In this
he disagrees with Rashi.) Why is the Pesach sacrifice singled out?
It must also be asked why the Torah emphasizes the place and precise time of
this command. Note that this event antedates the opening of the book of
Bamidbar. Why does the Torah choose to postpone its inclusion until nine
chapters into the book?
Rashi, quoting from the Sifrei (64, 67), says that in the wilderness of Sinai,
in the second year of their exodus from the land of Egypt, in the first month
was the only time that the Children of Israel offered the Pesach sacrifice in
their forty years in the wilderness. The event was removed from the beginning
of Bamidbar so as not to call attention to this unfortunate fact.
Two approaches are found among our Sages regarding this. The Talmud (Yevamot
72a) explains that one whose children or slaves remain uncircumcised is
forbidden to offer the Pesach sacrifice. In the wilderness, the people were
unable to circumcise newborns or slaves, because it was dangerous: Hashem
could have ordered them to travel at a moment’s notice, making recuperation
uncertain; besides, there was no healing north wind throughout their stay in
the wilderness. According to the Sifrei, on the other hand, the sin of the
scouts (Parshat Shelach)prevented them from entering the land of Israel during
the second year. Therefore, it is to their shame and discredit that they could
not offer the Pesach sacrifice for 39 years.
Ramban explains why this was so. While it is true that all other aspects of
the seven-day festival of Pesach apply both within the land of Israel and
without, the Pesach sacrifice of the 14th day of the first month was not to go
into effect until their entry into the land. As it says,
And it shall be, when you shall come to the land which Hashem will give you,
as He said, that you shall keep this service (Shemot 12:25).
And it shall be, when Hashem shall bring you into the land of the
Canaanite…that you shall perform this service in this month (Ibid.,13:5).
Indeed, the prophet asks rhetorically
Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings for forty years in the
wilderness, O house of Israel?! (Amos 5:25).
Ramban’s approach is paralleled in the Zohar (III, 151b-152a) stating that the
Children of Israel thought they did not have to offer the Pesach sacrifice
again, since they had already done so in Egypt. Hashem repeated the command at
Sinai, the place where all the other mitzvot were given.
The Children of Israel had been commanded to offer the Pesach sacrifice on the
threshold of their liberation from Egypt; this was Pesach Mitzrayim. At that
time, they were also informed that they would resume this service upon their
entry to the Promised Land, and continue for all generations; this was to be
Pesach l’dorot. Had they never rejected the Land, then only one Pesach – “in
the second year of their exodus from the land of Egypt” – would have separated
Pesach Mitzrayim from Pesach ledorot. Instead, after this lone Pesach Bamidbar,
there was a disgraceful 39-year hiatus.
It is clear, however, that Hashem wanted there to be a Pesach sacrifice in the
wilderness. One question, therefore, remains. What is the purpose of Pesach
“And now the Holy One Blessed be He desired and commanded that they make it in
order that the memory of their redemption and of the miracles which were done
for them and their forefathers should be transmitted from the fathers who saw
them to their children, and their children to another generation (Yoel 1:3).”
In order to understand Ramban’s subtle but crucial idea, we need only put
ourselves in the position of the generation of the Exodus. While making the
transition from slavery to freedom, we knew we were living through a
momentous, history-making event. We also knew that the time would come when we
would commemorate and relive that event once our lives would be stable in our
homeland. But first Hashem commanded us, “the fathers who saw,” to construct
the bridge to the future with Pesach Bamidbar.
The same is true of any generation that has witnessed history being made.
First comes the dizzying intensity of the moment itself, eventually giving
rise to the impulse to memorialize it for generations.
But the initial proof of our commitment to perpetuate the memory of an event
comes on the first anniversary. It is then when we have the opportunity to
create the first link in the chain of memory.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
The story of Pesach Sheni gives us a fascinating insight into the behavior
of the Jewish people in the desert. Those who had failed to bring the
Paschal lamb on time came to Moshe, saying, “We are defiled by a human
corpse; why should we be diminished (lama nigara)? (Bamidbar 9:7).” What
prompted these people to demand making up what they had missed? What is
the meaning of the term “lama nigara,” “why should we be diminished?”
This phrase is used once again by the daughters of Tzelaphchad: “Why
should the name of our father be diminished (lama yigara) from among his
family? (Bamidbar 27:4).” I once heard in the name of Rav Chaim Yaakov
Goldvicht z”l that the two stories are related. In Parshat Pinchas the
Torah traces the ancestry of the daughters of Tzelaphchad to Yosef
HaTzadik, their great, great grandfather. Yosef showed initiative, as he
remained a tzadik in a hard environment of Galut - never missing a chance
to strengthen his connection to the Jewish people and to mitzvot. This is
the behavior that the daughters of Tzelaphchad modeled. Just because there
are no boys in the family, they should not have to loose their father’s
inheritance in Eretz Israel.
That same initiative is evident in our parsha. The Talmud (Succah 25 b)
cites an opinion that the people who missed the original Pesach had become
defiled as a result of carrying Yosef’s coffin - the same Yosef who had
showed initiative to remain totally connected to his tradition in the
environment of Egypt, the same Yosef who never gave up on being buried in
Eretz Yisrael. This is the Yosef that they modeled when they asked Moshe
for a second chance to bring the Paschal offering. They refused to give up
on a chance to connect with God and the Jewish people.
We too must learn from this initiative and not be lax to let others do in
our place what we can do by ourselves.
Rabbi Chanoch Yeres
Rabbi of Beit Knesset Beit Yisrael
Yemin Moshe, Jerusalem
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness , Exec. Dir., Aloh Naaleh,
At the OU Center, 22 Keren HaYesod
Tel.(02) 566-7787 ex. 254