The First Day of Passover (Joshua 5:2-6:1; 6:27)
April 15, 2014
15 Nisan 5774
Before the children of Israel could be redeemed from Egypt, God required them to circumcise their sons. This rite was not practiced during the sojourn in the desert until after the entry into the land of Canaan. After the children of Israel entered into the land, God again renewed this mark of His covenant with His people, along with the celebration of Pesah which marked the redemption from Egypt: “At that time the Lord said to Joshua: ‘Make flint knives and proceed with a second circumcision of the Israelites.’ So Joshua had flint knives made, and the Israelites were circumcised at Gibeath Haaralot. This is the reason (davar) why Joshua had the circumcision performed: All the people who had come out of Egypt, all the males of military age, had died during the desert wanderings after leaving Egypt. Now whereas all the people who came out of Egypt had been circumcised, none of the people born after the exodus, during the desert sojournings had been circumcised.” (5:4-5)
The significance of circumcision as a sign of the covenant for the Jewish tradition cannot be underestimated. There has never been a time when it has not been among the most powerful symbols of the relationship between God and His people and one Jew and another as is indicated in the following midrash: “Rabbi Yudan said: God said: (a) ‘ If thy children accept My Divinity, I will be their God and Patron; if not, I will not be their God and Patron. (b) If your children enter the Promised Land, they accept My Divinity; if not, they do not accept My Divinity. (c) If they accept circumcision, they accept My Divinity; if not, they do not accept My Divinity. (d) If thy children accept circumcision, they will enter the Promised Land; if not, they will not enter the Promised Land.’ [From where do we learn that circumcision was a condition for entering the land?] Rabbi Berekiah and Rabbi Helbo in the name of Rabbi Avin ben Rabbi Yose said: It is written: ‘This is the reason (davar) why Joshua had the circumcision performed.’ (Joshua 5:4) – Joshua spoke a word (davar) to them, and circumcised them. ‘What do you think you’, said he upbraiding them, ‘that you will enter the land uncircumcised?’ Thus said the Holy One Blessed be He to Abraham: ‘And I will give to you and to your seed after you’ (Genesis 17:8) provided that ‘you and those after you fulfil My covenant’ (Ibid. 9) – [brit – here understood to mean circumcision the condition].” (Genesis Rabbah 46:9, Theodore Albeck ed. p. 466)
These sages understand from this verse from Joshua that circumcision was a condition for entering the Promised Land. History has taught us that it is a condition for the perpetuation of both the Jewish people and faith as well.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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