Haftarah The First Day of Pesah (Joshua 5:2-6:1; 27)
April 11, 2017 / 15 Nisan 5777
The events of the Exodus were not intended to be a one-time deal. Rather, they were a paradigm for future generations as well. This was made clear when Joshua practically reenacts the Exodus when he ushers his people into the Promised Land where they would celebrate their first Pesah after wandering in the desert for forty years.
The Exodus from Egypt and the entry into Eretz Canaan were profoundly similar, only in reverse order. Moses had the people circumcise themselves in preparation for the initiatory Pesah in Egypt before splitting the sea and leading the people in their exodus from Egypt into the desert where they would experience the revelation at Sinai. Joshua, Moses’ disciple, on the other hand, split the Jordan River, led the people through the Jordan River on dry shod land into Eretz Canaan where he had them circumcise themselves and celebrate Pesah, culminating in a mini revelatory experience with the captain of the Lord’s hosts (5:14). These two leaders bookended the redemption with parallel events.
Two mitzvot, Brit Milah (circumcision) and Korban Pesah (the Passover offering and for our purposes, Passover observance), were integral to both stories. This suggests that both are basic to Israel’s national identity as is alluded to in a verse from the haftarah: “Now whereas all the people who came out of Egypt had been circumcised, none of the people born after the exodus, during the desert wanderings, had been circumcised. (verse 5)” (See Keritut 9a)
What is it about these two mitzvot that gives them both staying power and the ability to maintain group core identity? It seems to me that both of them facilitate Jewish distinctiveness, one bodily and one in table ritual. And for some remarkable reason, for a minority people in which so many struggle trying to determine for themselves the fine line between being a part of the larger world while maintaining attachment to their “tribal” identity, these activities speak to them.
Our people’s redemption from Egypt was a defining moment for us as a nation, as was when we accepted our covenant with God at Sinai and our normalization as a nation in our own homeland. Common ideology is apparently insufficient to bond as a people. Actions are required. It is readily apparent that these two actions serve as a guidepost for us in reminding us of this important truth.
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. The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives. Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp. Rabbi Joel Roth, Rosh Yeshiva Emeritus . Sponsors – The Conservative Yeshiva would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary: