Beha’alosecha 5784


Paschal passivity perplexion[1]

וידבר יקוק אל-משה במדבר-סיני בשנה השנית לצאתם מארץ מצרים בחודש הראשון לאמר: ויעשו בני-ישראל את-הפסח במועדו
Hashem spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, in the second year since they left Egypt, in the first month [of Nissan[, saying: “The Jewish people shall perform the Pesach offering, in its right time”[2]

Sefer Bamidbar starts in the second month of the Jews’ second year in the wilderness[3]. However, this week’s parsha begins talking about what happened in the first month, Nissan. It describes how the Jewish people brought the Pesach offering in the wilderness. Rashi asks[4] the obvious question: Why wasn’t the Torah written chronologically? Why is this section written after the section describing the second month? He answers that really this description of bringing the Pesach offering is disparaging to the Jews. This is because for the entire forty years they were in the desert, this was the only Pesach offering they brought. Therefore, the Torah didn’t want to start Sefer Bamidbar on such a note.

Many ask[5] on this comment of Rashi. Why is it disparaging that they didn’t bring the Pesach offering after this one time? We know why they didn’t bring it! Most of the Jews[6] hadn’t performed bris milah. We know that if someone or their child hasn’t had bris milah they forbidden to consume the Pesach offering[7]. Therefore, they didn’t bring it. Now, why not ask, why didn’t they perform bris milah? The reason was because it was dangerous to do the procedure while traveling in the desert[8]. However, we are taught that there was a mystical “northern wind” which could have apparently helped them perform bris milah. Our Sages tell us[9] that for the entire forty years they were in the wilderness, it didn’t blow. The Jews were in a state of excommunication, due to their sins[10]. This prevented the wind from blowing.

As a result, they weren’t able to perform bris milah[11]. Why then is it considered disparaging that they didn’t bring the Pesach offering? One approach is that in truth, they didn’t sin for not bringing the Pesach offering. They were exempt, due to not having done bris milah. However, that in fact was what was disparaging. They were uncircumcised for forty years, which is not a very Jewish thing[12]. Although, this stretches the words of Rashi a lot, who writes that it was disparaging that they only brought one Pesach.

A different approach is that, in fact, there was no obligation to bring the Pesach offering in the wilderness. Our Sages tell us[13] that whenever the Torah says, “when you come to the land”, it means that the mitzvah didn’t apply until the Jews came to the land of Israel. The Torah says[14], “when you come to the land” regarding the Pesach offering. So, they weren’t obligated! That’s why they didn’t bring it[15]. They only brought it this time because Hashem explicitly told them to. This strengthens the question on Rashi; what was so disparaging for not bringing it[16]?

The simple answer is that it didn’t have to be this way. They were poised to leave Mount Sinai and go straight into the land of Israel. They would have been obligated in the Pesach offering, and brought it as they were supposed to. What happened? The sin with the spies. They gave a false, negative report on the land, and the Jews believed them. As a result, they were sentenced to wander the wilderness for forty years. What’s disparaging is that they only brought one Pesach offering in forty years, due to their sins. They could have brought it every year, but their sins delayed their arrival to the Promised Land[17].

The Maharal has a different explanation[18], even if we say they were exempt while in the wilderness. He writes that we don’t need to say that their disparagement was that their sins delayed their entering the land of Israel. Just being exempt from mitzvah, whether through circumstances beyond one’s control, or due to a technical exemption, is itself disparaging. At the end of the day, for forty years they didn’t perform the mitzvah. Yes, we have a principle that someone who is in circumstances beyond their control is free of guilt, but that’s regarding a punishment. The mitzvah performance could have been a source of merit, and it’s disparaging that someone was exempt of that opportunity.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on various sources I found and collected

[2] Numbers 9:1,2

[3] Ibid 1;1

[4] Ibid 9:1, quoting Sifrei Bamidbar § 64, although it doesn’t say what was disparaging

[5] Tosafos to Kiddushin 37b s.v. הואיל; Da’as Zekeinim, Moshav Zekeinim, Omer Naka (attributed to Bartenura), and Mizrachi ad. loc.; Chizkuni ad. loc., brought by Riva to Exodus 12:25. Some ask the same question on Rashi based on the second approach, presented below

[6] See HaMakneh ad. loc. s.v. י”ל שהיה רובם, who tries to work out how come most of them or their children weren’t circumcised, having just come out of Egypt a year earlier and performed a nationwide circumcision. See Gur Aryeh to Numbers 9:1, who addresses how they brought the Pesach offering this time

[7] Exodus 12:48

[8] Yevamos 71b

[9] Ibid 72a

[10] Rashi ad. loc. says because of the sin of the golden calf. Riva loc. cit. as well. Tosafos ad. loc. says they were already forgiven for that. Rather it was because of the sin with the spies. See the gemarra there which gives another reason why there was no northern wind. Riva’s whole answer is based on this, that the disparagement was their sins caused the northern wind to stop. He doesn’t connect this to bris milah and the Pesach offering. Instead, he says that being excommunicated meant that they didn’t’ bring any offerings

[11] The gemarra actually seems to bring these two explanations, the difficulty of travel and the northern winds, as separate reasons why they didn’t circumcise themselves. The Rishonim only mention the northern wind approach

[12] Tosafos loc. cit., in their second answer. This seems to be their intent. Mizrachi loc. cit. suggests that according to Sifrei, the reason they didn’t bring it was because they were lazy. Although Tosafos is right that they weren’t able to bring the Pesach offering due to being uncircumcised, the lack of a northern wind was due to their sins. This is what was disparaging. It’s unclear what he means that the Jews didn’t bring it because they were lazy, and simultaneously that they were exempt from bring it due to being uncircumcised. See also note 17

[13] Kiddushin 37b

[14] Exodus 12:25. See Rashi ad. loc., quoting Mechilta ad. loc.

[15] The first approach holds like the other opinion in Kiddushin loc. cit., that “when you come to the land” is the Torah’s way of saying “perform this mitzvah so you merit to come to the land”

[16] Mizrachi loc. cit. initially suggests that the two sources, Mechilta and Sifrei loc. cit. are arguing on each other. That would mean Rashi in Exodus is saying something mutually exclusive of what he writes in Bamidbar. This is a common approach of the Mizrachi. However, see Ma’aseh Hashem Ma’asei Bereishis Chapter 1, who says this general approach to Rashi is untenable. Mizrachi later suggests that Sifrei also holds like the Mechilta. Riva loc. cit. also suggests that the Mechilta and Sifrei, and thus the two Rashi’s, are at odds with each other. He sticks with this approach

[17] Tosafos loc. cit., in their first answer, Da’as Zekeinim, Chizkuni brought by Riva, and Mizrachi loc. cit. The language of Tosafos sounds like their second answer, that they weren’t circumcised, isn’t going with this approach that their sin is what caused their situation. They write that they weren’t circumcised, and that is what was disparaging. However, Sifsei Chachamim ad. loc. quote Tosafos that they weren’t circumcised, and what was disparaging is that their sin caused it. One would be tempted to say that he’s simply paraphrasing the Mizrachi (quoted earlier), as he often does. However, the Mizrachi doesn’t attribute this being uncircumcised approach to Tosafos. Instead, this seems to be Sifsei Chachamim’s interpretation of Tosafos. Omar Naka loc. cit. has a more confusing combination approach. He first asks that they weren’t obligated, since the obligation is only upon entering the land of Israel. Then he answers that really, they weren’t obligated because they weren’t circumcised, which was due to the lack of northern wind, which was due to their sins. This was their disparagement. He cites his approach from the gemarra, which we don’t seem to have. Perhaps his intent is like Sifsei Chachamim. In fact, Moshav Zekeinim loc. cit. asks both according to the opinion they are obligated yet were uncircumcised, and according to the opinion that they weren’t obligated until they entered the land of Israel, and answers that their sins delayed their entering, which was their disparagement

[18] Gur Aryeh loc. cit.