by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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This week's sedra (and the following two, as well) tells about several incidents that occured while the Israelites were traveling in the Wilderness. One of these concerns the laws of Pesach Shaine (the Second Pesach) when certain people were not able to observe the main Pesach on the 14th of Nisan. They then observe Pesach Shaine a month later on the 14th of Iyar.
And Hashem spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai in the second year of their Exodus from the land of Egypt, in the first month saying.
In the first month: Rashi: The chapter at the beginning of this book was not said until Iyar (the second month). You learn that there is no order of precedence or succession in the Torah. And why did He not begin with this chapter? Because it is to Israel's discredit, that throughout the forty years that Israel was in the wilderness they offered no other Pascal offering except for this one.
What Is Rashi Saying ?
The first verse in the book of Numbers (1:1) says that Hashem spoke to Moses on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Exodus from Egypt. Our verse (nine chapters later) speaks of Hashem speaking to Moses on the first month of the second year after the Exodus. Clearly, the events described in our verse took place before the events described in the beginning of the book. The events are not recorded in chronological order.
"There is No Earlier or Later in the Torah"
While the Torah generally follows a chronological order, there are instances when it does not. Rashi points this out several times in his Torah commentary (for some examples see Rashi on Genesis 6:3, Exodus 4:20, and Leviticus 8:2). But it is not readily apparent that those events are not in chronological sequence, because in each of those instances no dates are mentioned. Our verse, on the other hand, is a unequivocal example of the non-chronological order, since the Torah explicitly records the dates in these two verses. And, as Rashi points out here, the earlier date (our verse) is recorded later in the Torah than is the later date, (verse 1:1).
This principle of "there is no earlier or later in the Torah" is understood differently by different Torah commentators. Rashi, not infrequently, calls upon this principle to explain verses. The Ramban, on the other hand, is strongly opposed to the wholesale application of this principle. He exclaims in protest ( in his comment to Leviticus 8:2) "Why should we turn upside down the words of the Living G-d." But because of the explicit dates in our verses, all commentators agree that our verse is most certainly out of order chronologically. The reason that an event is written in the Torah out of chronological order must be understood in each case.
"To Israel's Discredit"
In our case Rashi gives us a reason why the Book of Numbers did not begin in chronological sequence, i.e. with our verse which took place earlier. He says that this was the only time that the Israelites brought the Passover offering during the entire forty years that they were in the wilderness.
But on this point, we can ask several questions.
Hint: One question can be gleaned when we see Exodus 12:25 and Rashi ad loc.
What would you ask?
A Question: There the Torah says about the Passover service "And it will be when you come into the Land and you should keep this service." As Rashi says on that verse, the mitzvah of the Passover offering was obligatory only once the Israelites entered Israel. Thus the Passover offering spoken of in the next verse (9:2,) was itself unusual, it was the exception rather than the rule. So what kind of discredit can it be considered if they didn't bring this offering during the forty years in the wilderness, for they had not yet entered the boundaries of Eretz Yisroel?
Can you answer this question?
Hint: Think logically.
An Answer: True, while they were in the wilderness there was no obligation to bring the Passover offering. But the fact that they remained in the wilderness for forty years was to the Israelites' discredit. Had the spies not sinned, the people would have entered Israel the very same year. This is what Rashi is stressing when he says "throughout the forty years that Israel was in the wilderness" - it is the forty year delay that was the result of a grievous sin that is to the discredit of Israel.
Rashi says that this was the only Passover offering made during the forty years in the wilderness. How does he know this? Maybe there were others that weren't recorded. Remember, not every thing that happened during those forty years was recorded.
A Deeper Understanding
An Answer: If we look in the Book of Joshua (5: 2) we read the following:
"At that time Hashem said to Joshua, 'Make sharp knives for yourself and circumcise the Children of Israel again, a second time.' So Joshua made sharp knives for himself and circumcised the Children of Israel at Givas Ha'arlos. This is the reason why Joshua circumcised them. The entire people that had gone out of Egypt - the males, all the men of war - had died in the wilderness on the way after they went forth from Egypt. All the people that went forth were circumcised, but all the people that were born in the wilderness on the way, after they left Egypt were not circumcised. Because for forty years the Children of Israel journeyed in the wilderness until the demise of the entire nation, the men of war, who went forth from Egypt and had not heeded the voice of Hashem , about whom Hashem had sworn not to show them the land that Hashem sworn to their forefathers to give to us, a land flowing with milk and honey."
We see from the above that the newborn Israelite males were not circumcised in the wilderness. We also know that neither an uncircumcised male nor the father of an uncircumcised infant (Exodus 12:48) is allowed to partake of the Pascal sacrifice.
It follows, then, that after the decree to wander in the wilderness for forty years, since there were so many uncircumcised males, that there were no other Passover sacrifices possible.
And ,in fact, we find that immediately after Joshua had the males circumcised it says:
"And they made the Pesach on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening in Arvos Yericho. (Joshua 5:10)
Clearly the ability to offer the Pascal sacrifice was dependent on the circumcision of the males. And since no males were circumcised in the wilderness, they had to wait until they could be circumcised before they could offer the Passover sacrifice.
Ergo, there was one and only one Pascal sacrifice during all the years the Israelites were in the wilderness.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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