Haftarah: Pesach First Day
April 7, 2012
15 Nisan 5772
The First Day of Pesah (Joshua 5:2-6:1;27)
The mitzvot of Pesah and Brit Milah (circumcision) are inextricably linked in the Torah: “…no uncircumcised male shall eat of it (the Passover sacrifice).” (Exodus 12:48)
When the children of Israel celebrated their first Pesah in the land of Canaan, it was Joshua who fulfilled this mandate since the children of Israel born in the desert had not been circumcised: “At that time the Lord said to Joshua: \’Make flint knives, and proceed with a second circumcision of the children of Israel.\’ So Joshua had flint knives made, and circumcised the children of Israel at Gibeath-ha-araloth. This is the reason why Joshua circumcised; all the people who had come out of Egypt, all the males of military age, had died during the desert wanderings after leaving Egypt. For all the people who had come out of Egypt had been circumcised; but none of the people born after the exodus during the desert wanderings, had been circumcised. For the children of Israel had traveled forty years in the wilderness, until the entire nation – the men of military age who had left Egypt – had perished; because they had not obeyed the Lord; and the Lord had sworn not to let them see the land which the Lord had sworn to their fathers that He would give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. But He raised up their children in their stead; and it was these that Joshua circumcised; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way. After the circumcising of the whole nation was completed, they remained where they were in the camp, until they recovered.” (Joshua 5:2-8)
In the passage cited above, God informs Joshua that he should carry out a second circumcision of the people. The intent of this command is that circumcision was not carried out during the desert trek and it was for Joshua to revive the practice. The following midrash gives this “second circumcision” added meaning: R. Abbahu said: While Moses and Israel were still reclining and eating their paschal lambs in Egypt, God had already wrought [their deliverance], as it says: ‘And it came to pass at midnight, that the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt’ (Exodus 12:29)… He said to them: \’ Thus God said to me, in one word: ‘No uncircumcised person shall eat thereof’ (ib. 48).’ Immediately, each one put his sword on his thigh and circumcised himself. (The midrash records a different set of opinions.) Who circumcised them? R. Berekiah said: Moses circumcised them and Aaron turned back the flesh and Joshua gave them to drink. Some, however, say that Joshua circumcised them and Aaron turned back the flesh and Moses gave them to drink, as it is written: ‘At that time the Lord said unto Joshua: \’Make flint knives, and proceed with a second circumcision of the children of Israel. (Joshua 5:2). What is meant by a ‘second time’? This indicated that Joshua circumcised them the first time as well. (adapted from Shir Hashirim Rabba 1:12:3)
Why would this midrash want to attribute both the circumcision in Egypt and the first circumcision in the land of Canaan to Joshua? Perhaps it wanted to inform us that the redemptive process did not end with the exodus from Egypt. It only ended when the people finally came home to their land. This homecoming could not succeed if the people lost its unique identity. If they had no distinguishing characteristics in Egypt, they would not have left. The same is true when they reached Canaan. Without their uniqueness, there would be no nation. Joshua, who was charged with leading the people into their homeland was also mandated with upholding their identity.
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: