Behaaloscha – 180°


rabbi-nosson-greenbergBy Rabbi Nosson Greenberg

In this week’s parsha  we learn of the offering of the korban  Pesach by the Bnai Yisrael in the second year after leaving Mitzrayim. Rashi, quoting Chazal, tells us that this was the last year in their forty-year journey through the Midbar that they offered this particular korban. This lack of commitment was such an embarrassment to the Bnai Yisrael that The Torah was reluctant to open Sefer Bamidbar with this event [even though chronologically that is where it should have been placed]. Tosfos, however, is puzzled. The reason for their 38 year non-performance of this mitzva was not because of some nonchalant attitude to the keeping of commandments. On the contrary, they were prohibited from offering the Pesach  korban all those years because their newborn sons had not had a Bris Milah (which prevents their fathers from being able to offer the Pesach korban) due to the lack of a therapeutic Northern Wind in the Midbar which made Bris  Milah a dangerous procedure. So why is this non-performance considered an embarrassing stain on the Bnai  Yisrael? He answers that the indictment is not so much on their non-performance of that korban for those 38 years but rather it is on why they found themselves mired in the Northern Wind-free zone of the Midbar for that length of time unable to perform this mitzva. You see, at this juncture in the Torah, they were days away from entering Eretz Cana’an.  A land where they would have been able to perform Brisos and continue uninterrupted in their yearly offering of the korban  Pesach. It was only due to the sin of the Meraglim (next week’s parsha) that the Yidden were punished with a 40 year trek through the barren and inhospitable Midbar, a place preventing them from keeping all the mitzvos properly. It is this sin of the Meraglim that is the root cause of their non-offering of the Pesach that the Torah finds distasteful and something unacceptable with which to open the book of Bamidbar.

At first glance it would seem that the choosing of the mitzva of offering the korban Pesach as the manifestation of the spiritual fall-out from the sin of the Meraglim [and the subsequent delay of the Bnai Yisrael in entering the Promised Land] is purely happenstance. For there were several other mitzvos (any of those that the Torah says did not officially kick-in until entering Eretz Cana’an such as the wearing of Tefillin) that, too, were not performed during the 40 year Midbarial trek. But I would like to suggest that perhaps the link between the sin of the Meraglim and korban Pesach is deliberate and direct.

We know that there is a minhag to eat hard-boiled eggs on Seder night. One of the reasons offered is that the night of the week upon which the Seder is celebrated is also the same week-night when Tisha B’av is commemorated. Thus at the Seder we pay homage to the night of Tisha B’av with a subtle act of mourning – the eating of an egg (which traditionally symbolizes the circle of life that is completed at death). One may ask that this minhag seems hard to understand. Just because another event falls out on the same week-night, is that enough reason to intertwine the two events? The answer, I believe, is that there is a much deeper link. The night of Pesach is celebrating a nation that was experiencing  a redemption from Mitzrayim. They were idealistic, enthusiastic and gung-ho to connect with their Creator and they showed a willingness to follow Him wherever He would take them, through thick or thin. Tisha B’av represents a nation with the exact opposite mind-set.  A nation that was blasé and indifferent to their relationship with Hashem. We therefore eat the egg at the Seder to remind ourselves of our ability and bechira to “do a 180” on the night’s theme, and the trouble that can C”V befall us by doing so.

The Pesach sacrifice was offered on Erev Pesach – the afternoon before the Seder. The original Pesach sacrifice in Mitzrayim was a turning point in the storied history of Klal  Yisrael. They willingly put their lives on the line for Hashem by taking the deity of the Egyptians and publicly sacrificing it to Him. That is the legacy of Erev Pesach, a time of mesiras  nefesh for a greater purpose. And that is the exact opposite mindset of the Meraglim. They came back from spying on the land with an analysis that trying to capture it was just too dangerous. Even though Hashem had promised his protection they got weak-kneed, scared and folded like a cheap suit. Mesiras nefesh was nary a thought. Now then, upon which day did the Meraglim return with this unfortunate report? It was the 8th of Av, Erev Tisha  B’av. Just like we link the theme of the night of Pesach and its Seder to its counterpart Tisha  B’av, so too Chazal links the theme of Erev Pesach and its unique korban to Erev Tisha B’av, the fateful day the Meraglim returned. For one event showed great mesiras  nefesh, while the other showed a great lack of it.

Now we can understand why, of all the mitzvos that were compromised by the Meraglim  delaying our entry into Eretz  Cana’an, the non-offering of the korban  Pesach is chosen as the poster child for this tragic event.

Same week-day, opposite message

Rabbi Nosson Greenberg,

Rav, Khal Machzikei Torah, Far Rockaway, N.Y.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Nosson Greenberg is rov of Khal Machzikei Torah of Far Rockaway, N.Y., and maggid shiur at Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.

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