Sunday, August 25, 2019

First Day of Pesach

The haftarah for the first day of Pesach focuses, understandably, upon the first korban Pesach offered in Eretz Yisrael, only a short four days after Yehoshua and the nation crossed the Yarden and entered the land. As ordained by the Torah, this ritual was observed only after the generation of men born in the desert received a brit milah, thereby qualifying them to partake of the korban Pesach (see Shemot 12:48 “v’chol arel lo yochal bo”). The Torah dictates that the sacrifice was to be offered on the 14th of Nisan, Erev Pesach, and eaten that night, i.e., the Seder night. This unique experience in the days of Yehoshua was considered the “model” Paschal offering, as all of the nation remained camped together as they had been in the desert, and therefore, all the people participated in the mitzvah.

There is, however, a number of misconceptions regarding this mitzvah that should be clarified. Firstly, this ritual was not part of the chag we refer to as “Pesach.” In fact, whenever the Tanach speaks of “Pesach” it is referring to the Paschal sacrifice ritual and not the holiday, which is usually called “Chag HaMatzot.” Secondly, Bnai Yisrael were never commanded to offer the korban Pesach while in the desert but only when they entered Eretz Yisrael (Shemot 12:25), and only on the first anniversary of Yetziat Mitzrayim did Hashem command them to observe the Paschal sacrifice. Thirdly, the uniqueness of this ritual was that it involved the entire nation as individuals. Whereas the daily and holiday communal sacrifices were animals offered by the kohanim in the Beit Hamikdash as agents of the community, the korban Pesach is the only sacrifice in which every single Jew could be actively involved. Indeed, for this very reason it is only in this instance that individuals who were impure and unable to participate in the korban complained to Moshe Rabbeinu of their exclusion, and only in this instance does Hashem establish a “make-up” sacrifice, an opportunity for those who missed the first korban Pesach to offer one a month later, on the 14th of Iyar.

For this same reason, the Paschal offering of which we read in this haftarah was of so much importance. Although all of Israel was commanded to travel to the Mishkan/Mikdash to observe this mitzvah, once the people took over the land, with each shevet in their separate area, it became more and more difficult for people to leave their estates, take their families and make the trek to Shilo (the place of the Mishkan) or Yerushalayim. As a result, fewer people observed the mitzvah. The story of the haftarah brings the reader back to simpler times and, beyond the nostalgia, reminds us that the greatest impact of this mitzvah is felt when it succeeds in bringing together all of Israel.

In truth, all of the pilgrimage festivals had the effect of uniting a nation that had spread throughout the land and, as a result, had limited connection with each other. The korban Pesach, however, also filled the streets of Yerushalayim with thousands of groups actively observing the same mitzvah in the same way at the same time. The local Jerusalemites had the opportunity of greeting the pilgrims from around the country and even making a connection with those they would have, otherwise, never known. What a wonderful message for us to remember as we sit down to our Seder tables.

A lesson we learn as one nation serving one God.

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler

Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.