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The First Day of Pesah

Haftarah The First Day of Pesah (Joshua 5:2-6:1;27)
April 23, 2016 / 15 Nisan 5776

Yehoshua’s mission was to lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land. His mission was very different from that of Moshe. Moshe led his people though a miraculous existence. The people had total dependence on God in almost every aspect of their lives. Both water and food were provided providentially. Life was easy in that sense. Manna was the people’s source of sustenance. The first Pesah after entering Eretz Canaan was a monumental event on many counts. It was only the third time that Pesah had been celebrated, once in Egypt, again in the first year in the desert and now upon entering the land. It was also the first time the men of the community had been circumcised since having left Egypt. There was one other marked change: “On the day after the Pesah offering, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened bread and parched grain. On that same day, when they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased, that year they ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.” (5:11-12)

The first Pesah in the land marked the end of the children of Israel’s miraculous existence. From this time on, their lives were to be marked by normative living. Rashi offers an interesting insight into the implications of this change: “From this time forth they would eat from the produce of the land, for if they had manna, they would not eat from the produce, since the manna was much easier for them. This is like a situation where a child is seen eating barley bread (which is cheap and not terribly tasty). When asked why he is eating barley bread and not wheat bread (much tastier), he responds that he does not have any.”

Rashi understands human nature very well. He knows that people will not trouble themselves with making an effort if they do not have to and will often settle for second best out of inertia. The message of Pesah is that blessing of freedom requires taking responsibility for one’s life and putting out an effort for those things that are important. This is the real miracle of human existence and of Jewish existence. Jewish life offered on a platter does not have the same significance as putting forth the effort to make it happen. This is why the miracle of the redemption of Israel from Egypt ends not in the desert but in Eretz Yisrael, the place where the miracle of Jewish existence rests squarely on human shoulders.

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.

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.
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