Numbers 9:1-5 – The Second Passover

We all know about the first Passover when God took the Jewish people out of Egypt. When was the second Passover? Did Israel celebrate Passover in the wilderness?

Passover in the Wilderness

Without any doubt, the Jewish people celebrated Passover in the wilderness while they were camped at Mount Sinai.

Numbers 9

1. And the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they came out of the land of Egypt, saying,
2. Let the people of Israel offer the Passover-offering at its appointed season.
3. In the fourteenth day of this month, at evening you shall offer it in its appointed season; according to all its statutes, and according to all its ordinances, you shall offer it.
4. And Moses spoke to the people of Israel, that they should offer the Passover-offering.
5. And they offered the Passover-offering on the fourteenth day of the first month at evening in the wilderness of Sinai; according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so did the people of Israel.

Before going any further, let’s clear up a possible confusion about Passover.

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The 4 Types of Passover

There are 4 different “types” of Passover in the Bible.

1. Passover before leaving Egypt. This is called Passover Egypt [Hebrew: pesach mitzraim].

2. The Passover that is meant to be celebrated for all time. This is called Passover for the Generations [Hebrew: pesach dorot].

3. The second celebration of Passover. This is called Passover in the Wilderness [Hebrew: pesach midbar]. The verses quoted above are about this Passover.

As we will see, this may be a special instance of pesach dorot. Or, maybe not.

4. An opportunity for certain people who were not able to observe Passover in the month of Nisan to do a makeup celebration in the month of Iyar. In Hebrew this is called “pesach sheni”, literally second Passover. This is described in Numbers 9:6-13.

There are significant differences in how each of these “types” of Passover is celebrated, but that’s not the purpose of this article.

This article is about the second time Passover was celebrated (pesach midbar). It is not about the makeup Passover, pesach sheni.

Why Command Passover in the Wilderness?

God had already commanded the Jewish people to celebrate Passover. So why is it necessary to command celebrating pesach midbar?

Here are verses commanding the celebration of Passover:

  • Exodus 12:14-20 – celebrating Passover is an eternal decree
  • Exodus 34:18 – celebrate Passover in the spring
  • Exodus 34:25 – the Passover offering
  • Leviticus 23:4-8 – celebrate the festivals in their time

But Exodus 12:25 and 13:5 imply that the observance of Passover will happen only after the Jewish people enter the Land of Israel!

Exodus 12

25. And it shall come to pass, when you come to the land which the Lord will give you, according as He has promised, that you shall keep this service [celebrating Passover].

Moses and the rest of the people could conclude that there was not yet an obligation to celebrate Passover. Therefore God commanded them to bring the Passover offerings in the wilderness.

Rashbam in his commentary takes a very different approach. He points out that the first Passover in Egypt was very different from how Passover is to be celebrated. Therefore, at the beginning of Year 2 in the wilderness it was necessary to command to observe Passover in the proper way.

Numbers Should Begin with Passover

Numbers 1:1 says that God spoke to Moses “on the first day of the second month, in the second year.”

Yet this command to observe Passover in the wilderness came “in the first month of the second year.” That is a month earlier.

There is a principle that there is no chronological order in the Torah. Sometimes the lack of order is not obvious. Here it is very clear.

But why reverse the chronological order in the case of Passover?

Rashi writes that the Book of Numbers doesn’t start with this celebration because it hints at a disgrace for the Jewish people. He writes that the disgrace is that this was the only time they celebrated Passover in the wilderness.

Only One Passover in the Wilderness

The next mention of the Jewish people celebrating Passover is in the Book of Joshua after they entered the Land of Israel.

Joshua 5

3. And Joshua made sharp knives, and circumcised the people of Israel at the hill of Aralot.
4. And this is the cause why Joshua circumcised: All the people who came out of Egypt, who were males, all the men of war, died in the wilderness on the road, after they came out of Egypt.
5. Now all the people who came out were circumcised; but all the people who were born in the wilderness on the road as they came forth out of Egypt, those were not circumcised. …

10. And the people of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening in the plains of Jericho.

We see in these verses that during the years in the wilderness, the male children were not circumcised. And the lack of circumcision seems to be the reason for not bringing Passover offerings.

Why was there no circumcision in the wilderness?

One explanation is that it could be dangerous for a child to travel immediately after being circumcised.

Rabbi Sorotzkin writes that during those 40 years the healing North wind did not blow. Therefore, it was dangerous to circumcise.

What is the Disgrace?

As I wrote above, according to Rashi, it is a disgrace to the Jewish people that they only celebrated Passover one time in the wilderness.

Let’s look at several explanations why this should be considered a disgrace.

Midrash

According to a midrash, they were exempt from celebrating Passover while they were in the wilderness. However, they weren’t supposed to be in the wilderness for 40 years!

Without the sin of the spies (Numbers 14:33-34), they would have come into the Land of Israel that summer and would have been able to celebrate Passover the following year in Israel.

The disgrace is their losing the opportunity to enter the Land of Israel right away.

Malbim

The Malbim writes that because the children were not circumcised, they were not able to bring the Passover offering.

The Malbim (his commentary on Joshua 5:6) asks why Moses and the other leaders didn’t force parents to circumcise their baby boys.

He answers that traveling right after the circumcision could be dangerous to the child. Plus, they never knew when they would be required to journey. Due to this excuse, it was not possible to force the parents to put their children at risk.

However, he adds that if their “hearts were straight” [with God] they would not have relied on this excuse. In fact, the tribe of Levi did circumcise their infants and did celebrate Passover in the wilderness.

According to Malbim, the disgrace is relying on an excuse to refrain from circumcision and thus lose the opportunity to celebrate Passover in the wilderness.

Netziv – HaEmek Davar

The Netziv rejects these explanations.

He writes that the children being uncircumcised would not prevent bringing the Passover offering. It is true that an uncircumcised man cannot bring the Passover offering.

However, that is only when circumcising is possible. If it’s not possible to circumcise, then the person and the community can bring the offering.

He offers a different explanation. He agrees that they were not obligated to celebrate Passover during the years in the wilderness. However, the disgrace is that they did not protest and request permission to celebrate Passover in the wilderness.

We read in Numbers 9:6-13 an example of those who did protest when they were not permitted to bring the Passover offering. According to Netziv, this should have served as a model for the rest of the nation.


A Note on the Translations
The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.
The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.
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