Some odds and end for this Pesakh.
Mah nishtanah hehaftarah hazot mikol haftarot?
Why is this haftarah different from all the other haftarot?
In the haggadah, we ask why on other night we do not dip our foods, but on Pesakh we dip twice.
In this haftarah from Joshua, for the first day of Pesach when it falls on Shabbat, we read of a second mass circumcision.
בָּעֵ֣ת הַהִ֗יא אָמַ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁ֔עַ עֲשֵׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ חַֽרְב֣וֹת צֻרִ֑ים וְשׁ֛וּב מֹ֥ל אֶת־בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל שֵׁנִֽית׃
At that time the LORD said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and proceed with a second circumcision of the Israelites.”
וַיַּעַשׂ־ל֥וֹ יְהוֹשֻׁ֖עַ חַֽרְב֣וֹת צֻרִ֑ים וַיָּ֙מָל֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֶל־גִּבְעַ֖ת הָעֲרָלֽוֹת׃
So Joshua had flint knives made, and the Israelites were circumcised at Gibeath-haaraloth.
וְזֶ֥ה הַדָּבָ֖ר אֲשֶׁר־מָ֣ל יְהוֹשֻׁ֑עַ כָּל־הָעָ֣ם הַיֹּצֵא֩ מִמִּצְרַ֨יִם הַזְּכָרִ֜ים כֹּ֣ל ׀ אַנְשֵׁ֣י הַמִּלְחָמָ֗ה מֵ֤תוּ בַמִּדְבָּר֙ בַּדֶּ֔רֶךְ בְּצֵאתָ֖ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃
This is the reason why Joshua had the circumcision performed: All the people who had come out of Egypt, all the males of military age, had died during the desert wanderings after leaving Egypt.
כִּֽי־מֻלִ֣ים הָי֔וּ כָּל־הָעָ֖ם הַיֹּֽצְאִ֑ים וְכָל־הָ֠עָם הַיִּלֹּדִ֨ים בַּמִּדְבָּ֥ר בַּדֶּ֛רֶךְ בְּצֵאתָ֥ם מִמִּצְרַ֖יִם לֹא־מָֽלוּ׃
Now, whereas all the people who came out of Egypt had been circumcised, none of the people born after the exodus, during the desert wanderings, had been circumcised.
כִּ֣י ׀ אַרְבָּעִ֣ים שָׁנָ֗ה הָלְכ֣וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֮ בַּמִּדְבָּר֒ עַד־תֹּ֨ם כָּל־הַגּ֜וֹי אַנְשֵׁ֤י הַמִּלְחָמָה֙ הַיֹּצְאִ֣ים מִמִּצְרַ֔יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־שָׁמְע֖וּ בְּק֣וֹל יְהוָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר נִשְׁבַּ֤ע יְהוָה֙ לָהֶ֔ם לְבִלְתִּ֞י הַרְאוֹתָ֣ם אֶת־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁר֩ נִשְׁבַּ֨ע יְהוָ֤ה לַֽאֲבוֹתָם֙ לָ֣תֶת לָ֔נוּ אֶ֛רֶץ זָבַ֥ת חָלָ֖ב וּדְבָֽשׁ׃
For the Israelites had traveled in the wilderness forty years, 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 never to let them see the land that the LORD had sworn to their fathers to assign to us, a land flowing with milk and honey.
וְאֶת־בְּנֵיהֶם֙ הֵקִ֣ים תַּחְתָּ֔ם אֹתָ֖ם מָ֣ל יְהוֹשֻׁ֑עַ כִּי־עֲרֵלִ֣ים הָי֔וּ כִּ֛י לֹא־מָ֥לוּ אוֹתָ֖ם בַּדָּֽרֶךְ׃
But He had raised up their sons in their stead; and it was these that Joshua circumcised, for they were uncircumcised, not having been circumcised on the way.
וַיְהִ֛י כַּאֲשֶׁר־תַּ֥מּוּ כָל־הַגּ֖וֹי לְהִמּ֑וֹל וַיֵּשְׁב֥וּ תַחְתָּ֛ם בַּֽמַּחֲנֶ֖ה עַ֥ד חֲיוֹתָֽם׃
After the circumcising of the whole nation was completed, they remained where they were, in the camp, until they recovered.
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁ֔עַ הַיּ֗וֹם גַּלּ֛וֹתִי אֶת־חֶרְפַּ֥ת מִצְרַ֖יִם מֵעֲלֵיכֶ֑ם וַיִּקְרָ֞א שֵׁ֣ם הַמָּק֤וֹם הַהוּא֙ גִּלְגָּ֔ל עַ֖ד הַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּֽה׃
And the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” So that place was called Gilgal, as it still is.
Apparently, during our 40-year trek through the wilderness, conditions were just not right or safe for newborn babies to be circumcised. Well, that’s one of the explanations offered by the rabbis to explain this story. Other commentators view it not as a physical circumcision, but a spiritual one, a metaphor for a new start entering a new land, the land promised to the people of Israel.
We’re not talking about circumcising babies here – we’re talking about the generation born since the exodus, born during the 40 years in the wilderness, many of them now young or older, experienced soldiers about to embark on a conquest of promised land. There are practical issues, too. Recently circumcised adult males are going to need a little recovery time before being able to go forth as a conquering army. (You couldn’t promise us a land we could take without bloodshed? Or would that be too easy and cause us to not value the gift enough? Once again, G”d is certain that the Israelites just aren’t awed enough by the things G”d has done and will do for them, so they need to be forced to have some investment in receiving the gift so they will value it. Wasn’t the point of putting us through the 40 years in the wilderness to weed out those who were weak of faith? They’re all gone now except Joshua and Caleb, who did seem to have faith. The 40 years might not have been fun, but G”d did sustain them, they did have the manna, and many other gifts. So why wouldn’t these new generations have enough faith in G”d that G”d would let them into the promised land without having to fight for it? sometimes, I really think G”d talks out of both sides of G”d’s mouth. We are living in an age where talking out of both sides of one’s mouth seems to have become normative among our leaders. The biblical G”d might fit in quite nicely nowadays. Lest you think I’m being harsh on G”d, I suggest you go back and the Tanakh again in its entirety and decide for yourself if really portrays a G”d who is consistent.)
Though this is admittedly viewing it from a modern lens, this haftarah raises “yuck” to new heights. Take a look at verse 3. It says the men were circumcised at גִּבְעַ֖ת הָעֲרָלֽוֹת – Gibeath-haaraloth – the hill of foreskins. Wow, there’s picture that’s hard to get out of your mind once you’ve seen it or even pictured it.
We’ll just gloss over the עַ֖ד הַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּֽה׃ – as it still is – at the end of verse 9, though it’s a classic bit of textual evidence of later redaction.
I think one of the most powerful yet strange moments in the Pesakh seder is at the very start of the Magid section – the Ha Lakhma
הָא לַחְמָא עַנְיָא דִּי אֲכָלוּ אַבְהָתָנָא בְאַרְעָא דְמִצְרָיִם. כָּל דִכְפִין יֵיתֵי וְיֵיכֹל, כָּל דִצְרִיךְ יֵיתֵי וְיִפְסַח. הָשַּׁתָּא הָכָא, לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בְּאַרְעָא דְיִשְׂרָאֵל. הָשַּׁתָּא עַבְדֵי, לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בְּנֵי חוֹרִין.
This is the bread of destitution that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Anyone who is famished should come and eat, anyone who is in need should come and partake of the Pesach sacrifice. Now we are here, next year we will be in the land of Israel; this year we are slaves, next year we will be free people.
From my modern, liberal perspective, I choose to view this passage as a universal call upon us to be responsive to those in need. Surely, we are not just calling on other Jews in need to come and partake in our Seder. Anyone came come join us.
However, it’s problematic. The Torah is explicit in stating that only those who are circumcised (well, whaddaya know, a connection between the two odds) are permitted to partake of the paschal offering. The paschal offering was a lamb that was slaughtered and eaten on the eve of Pesakh. In Ashkenazi tradition, lamb is not eaten at the seder because the Paschal lamb was part of Temple ritual. Sefardi Jews do eat lamb at their seders, as a re-enactment of the first Pesakh. The only restriction, per the Talmud, in tractate Pesakhim, is that a whole, roasted lamb should not be used.
An additional issue arises. Would not the time to make a proclamation to all those in need to come join us be more appropriate at the very start of the seder, before the first cup of wine and other blessings? 5 steps into the order of the seder seems an odd place to throw out an invitation to the poor and needy.
Four years ago, I stumbled upon a new haggadah, “Escape Velocity: A Post-Apocalyptic Haggadah” by Stanley Aaron Ledovic. I love his answer to this oddity. He posits that it’s actually meant to afflict those present at the seder, enjoying comfort and a sumptuous meal. It’s a reminder to all that we are still not truly free. Our exile continues. Only again when we are able to eat and taste the paschal lamb will we truly be free. On the one hand, that’s a very restored-Temple/messianic age take on things. Nevertheless, it has a certain ring of truth. How can we possibly be satisfied with the world we live in. None of us are truly free until all of us are free. We’ve lots of work yet to do.
Another question that arises is why we would be inviting those in need to come and partake at the moment of holding up the “bread of affliction?” Are we inviting them to join in our affliction, to suffer the matzvah and we and our ancestors do/did? I wondered about that for years, and often posed the question during seders I attended. Then I discovered that former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain Lord Jonathan Sacks addressed this question in his hagaddah. He suggests that the very act of sharing food is the mark of the moment when a person passes from being a slave, wary of sharing what little they have, to being free. Our invitation is part of our declaration of being free people.
In light of Lebovic’s take, I find myself struggling a bit with Sack’s understanding. I do think there’s room for both understandings, and my struggle these days is to do just that.
שְׁפֹךְ חֲמָתְךָ אֶל־הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יְדָעוּךָ וְעַל־מַמְלָכוֹת אֲשֶׁר בְּשִׁמְךָ לֹא קָרָאוּ. כִּי אָכַל אֶת־יַעֲקֹב וְאֶת־נָוֵהוּ הֵשַׁמּוּ. שְׁפָךְ־עֲלֵיהֶם זַעֲמֶךָ וַחֲרוֹן אַפְּךָ יַשִּׂיגֵם. תִּרְדֹף בְּאַף וְתַשְׁמִידֵם מִתַּחַת שְׁמֵי ה
Pour your wrath upon the nations that did not know You and upon the kingdoms that did not call upon Your Name! Since they have consumed Ya’akov and laid waste his habitation (Psalms 79:6-7). Pour out Your fury upon them and the fierceness of Your anger shall reach them (Psalms 69:25)! You shall pursue them with anger and eradicate them from under the skies of the Lord (Lamentations 3:66).
Pour out your wrath. Read after filling Elijah’s cup and opening the door. Another one of the troubling passages in the haggadah. Some much so that many, many contemporary haggadot offer alternatives to it. I personally feel more comfortable with reciting an alternative text, but I am also forced to ask myself if one also needs to read/hear the original to gain a fuller appreciation and understanding of why an alternative might be needed.
Next year in Jerusalem. But wait. There’s more. On the first night, we add
וּבְכֵן וַיְהִי בַּחֲצִי הַלַּיְלָה.
And so, it was in the middle of the night.
אָז רוֹב נִסִּים הִפְלֵאתָ בַּלַּיְלָה, בְּרֹאשׁ אַשְׁמוֹרֶת זֶה הַלַּיְלָה.
Then, most of the miracles did You wondrously do at night, at the first of the watches this night.
This is followed by a recounting of various miracles and good deeds that G”d did for us throughout history at night. Perhaps this is so we won’t fear going forth into the night to return home after a seder. The usual connotation of the night is that it is when bad, scary, evil things tend to happen. Perhaps it is simply to remind us that not all of G”d’s miracle happen in the open, in the full light of day.
There was evening, there was morning, day one. May we each come forth from our seder renewed, refreshed, yet still reflective, so that we might continue to use the things we have learned from our seder experience.
A zissen Pesakh, and Shabbat Shalom,
©2018 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other Musings on this Pesakh:
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5777 – Valley of The Donald
April 11, 2015 – Cop Out
Pesakh 5775 – Day Off (Literally)
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5773 – The Whole House of Israel
Pesach 5772 – Don’t Believe This
Pesach 8th Day 5772 – The Bread of Freedom
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5771-Admat Yisrael
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5769 – Valley of the Dry Economy
Pesach VII 5768 – Department of Redundant Anamnesis Department
Hol HaMoed Pesach 5767-Not Empty
Intermediate Shabbat of Passover 5766-A Lily Among Thorns
Pesach VII 5761 (Revised 5765)
Hol HaMoed Pesach 5764-Dem Bones & Have We Left Gd behind? (5578-60)
Hol Hamoed Pesach 5763-No Empty Gestures (Redux 5762)
5761-Pesach VII-Redundant Anamnesis