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Pesach (first day) 5766

Pesach First Day
(Joshua 5:2-6:1; 6:27)
Thursday, April 13, 2006

The first Passover celebrated after crossing into Eretz Israel was a turning point for the children of Israel. It marked the first Passover that had been celebrated since the Exodus. The preparation for this event entailed circumcising all who were not yet circumcised and it marked the beginning of normalized ritual behavior for the community. This change was marked by an even more momentous transformation: \”On the day after the Passover offering, on that very same day, they ate of the produce of the country, unleavened bread and parched grain. On that same day, when they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased. The Israelites got no more manna; that year they ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.\” (Joshua 5:11-12)

Why did God cease to provide the manna? The Mechilta, a midrashic work on the book of Exodus contemporary with the Mishnah, asserts that the miracle of the manna was attributable to Moses: \”Rabbi Joshua said: \’When Miriam died, the well was taken away, but it came back because of the merits of Moses and Aaron; When Aaron died, the cloud of glory was taken away and returned no more, but it then came back because of the merit of Moses; When Moses died, all three, the well, the cloud of glory and the manna, were taken away and returned no more.\’\” (Mechilta d\’Rabbi Ishmael Vayissa 5, Horowitz-Rabin ed. p. 173) Rabbi Joshua expanded this idea based on the verse from Joshua: \”Rabbi Joshua said: \’For forty days after the death of Moses the children of Israel continued to eat manna. How so? On the seventh of Adar Moses died. Thus they ate it the remaining twenty four days of Adar and sixteen days in Nisan. For it is said: \’On that very same day, they ate of the produce of the land.\’ And it said: \’On the day after the Passover offering, on that very same day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened bread and parched grain.\’\” (Ibid. p. 172)

According to Rabbi Joshua, it seems that from the death of Moses through the first Passover celebration in the land, the people had a surplus of manna from the time when Moses died. What is certain is that the death of the generation of \”the giants,\” Miriam, Aaron and Moses and the entry into the land marked a change in the status of the life of the people. While in the desert, the people lived under the umbrella of God\’s miraculous providential grace. Entering the land was a turning point in their lives, as was noted by Rabbi Naphtali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (19th century Bylorussia): \”In the desert they conducted themselves with glory for they walked alongside Moses who operated above the ways of the natural world; but in the land of Israel they lived according to the laws of nature, where God\’s providence is hidden…\” (Ha-amek Davar, Intro. to the book of Numbers)

In some sense, the first Passover in Eretz Yisrael was a redemptive experience of a different sort. The experience in the desert was for the children of Israel a childhood experience where everything was provided for them. This first Passover, under the leadership of Joshua, was the nation\’s introduction into adulthood where, with God\’s help, they had to provide for themselves. This second model represents the life that we lead, with all of its triumphs and its vicissitudes. It is our ability to choose our own paths and our ability to choose to serve God of our own volition that makes life meaningful. This is truly the miracle of freedom we celebrate on Passover.

About This Commentary

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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