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Exposition of the Book of Numbers, Part 4

June 5, 2014

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 5, Part 6)

Parashath B’ha’aloth’cha describes how the Israelites finally set off on their journey from Horeb to the Holy Land, and how that generation that left Egypt failed in its historical mission and was replaced by the next generation. The first parashiyoth detail the preparations that were made for the conquest, B’ha’aloth’cha, Sh’lah, and Korah detail how they failed, and from Huqqath on we find that the next generation was also organized into an army, but they were to succeed, and that is why the final chapters, which contain many more of the commandments that were to come into effect once they arrived in Canaan, appear in the latter part of the book.

Why were the Israelites required to offer a Passover sacrifice “in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt,” (9:1) if the the eternal commandment to offer the Passover would only come into effect after entering Canaan? The answer lies in the failed plan for the first year after the Exodus: On the first of Nisan they would prepare for the sacrifice that was to be on the fourteenth, and on the fifteenth they were to leave Egypt. Then, they were to receive the Torah at Sinai before heading to Canaan, but when they sinned with the Golden Calf, the plan was foiled. They only achieved complete atonement on the tenth of the seventh month, the first Yom Kippur, and were specifically commanded to delay the construction of the Tabernacle, which according to tradition was completed on the 25th of Kislew, until the first of Nisan of the second year, that is, almost a full year after the Exodus. The commandment to then offer the qorban pesah that second Nisan was a form of tiqqun for the one of the previous year, which did not usher in all of the divine promises intended for the Exodus, specifically their arrival in Canaan. However, the Israelites again failed that second year when they heeded the spies’ wicked counsel. Thus, 40 years later, the book of Joshua records that the Israelites started the 41st year after the Exodus by crossing the Jordan and celebrating Passover, (Joshua 5:2-10) the act that officially began the conquest, symbolically affirmed by the heavenly court then sending Joshua “the captain of the host of the LORD.” (ibid., 5:14)

Some years ago, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner was asked why neither the Torah nor the Sages ordained a Holiday to celebrate coming into control of Eretz Yisrael during the days of Joshua. Rabbi Aviner answered that Passover celebrates the entire redemption process that started with the Exodus and culminated with the building of the Temple. Note the words of the piyut Dayyeinu, which concludes the reading of the narrative section of the Haggagda:

If He had given us the Torah,
and had not brought us into the land of Israel, it would have sufficed!
If He had brought us into the land of Israel,
and not built for us the Holy Temple, it would have sufficed!

How much more so should we be grateful to the Omnipresent One for the doubled and redoubled goodness that He has bestowed upon us, for He has brought us out of Egypt… and brought us into the land of Israel and built for us the the Holy Temple to atone for all our sins.

The same is acknowledged in the concluding blessing, which in Temple times would thank God for redeeming us and allowing us to celebrate Passover every year in the Temple.

It is only fitting, therefore, that every redemption commence with Passover.

Right after the plague that opens Chapter 11, Moses is challenged by the people, themselves provoked by the “mixed multitude.” He then complains to God, “I am not able to bear all this people by myself, because it is too heavy for me.” Where were the tribal leaders repeatedly mentioned in the first ten chapters? Where were the original seventy elders mentioned in Exodus that they suddenly needed to be replaced? It must be that the previous plague, as suggested by Rashi, killed the leaders of the people. Note the irony of the last quote we have from that first generation. After the miracle of Aaron’s staff blossoming, the people realized the risk of having God’s sanctuary in their midst. And the children of Israel spoke unto Moses, saying: ‘Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. Every one that cometh near, that cometh near unto the tabernacle of the Lord, is to die; shall we wholly perish?” (17:27-28) Then, Chapters 18 and 19 detail various commandments, most notably concerning the Ashes of the Red Cow, which purify one who came into contact with the dead, and Chapter 20 introduces us to the new generation, the one that demonstrated its faith in God and his word and eventually conquered Canaan. The implied answer to their question is thus a resounding, “Yes, you shall wholly perish,” which is the way Moses was to describe it shortly before his own passing.

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From → original, parasha

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