Pesach and Eretz Yisrael
Am Yisrael was given the mitzva of Pesacḥ while still in Egypt, prior to the plague of the first born, as the posuk (verse) states:
"וְהָיָה הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה לָכֶם לְזִכָּרוֹן, וְחַגֹּתֶם אֹתוֹ חַג לה' לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם, חֻקַּת עוֹלָם תְּחָגֻּהוּ"
(“And this day shall be for you as a memorial, and you shall celebrate it as a festival for the Lord; throughout your generations, you shall celebrate it as an everlasting statute”) [Shemot (Exodus) 12:14].
The simple implication of the posuk is that the mitzva of Pesaḥ applies for all of time, in every generation and in every place.
However, in the same perek (chapter) we read "והיה כי תבואו אל הארץ אשר אשר יתן ה' לכם כאשר דיבר, ושמרתם את העבודה הזאת" (“And it shall come to pass when you enter the Land that the Lord will give you, as He spoke, that you shall observe this service”).
In perek 13 pesukim 5-6 state: "וְהָיָה כִי-יְבִיאֲךָ יְהוָה אֶל-אֶרֶץ הַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַחִתִּי וְהָאֱמֹרִי וְהַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ לָתֶת לָךְ, אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב, וּדְבָשׁ; וְעָבַדְתָּ אֶת-הָעֲבֹדָה הַזֹּאת, בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה. שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, תֹּאכַל מַצֹּת; וּבַיּוֹם, הַשְּׁבִיעִי, חַג, לה' " (“And it will come to pass that the Lord will bring you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivvites, and the Jebusites, which He swore to your forefathers to give you a land flowing with milk and honey and you shall perform this service in this month. For seven days you shall eat matza, and on the seventh day, there is a festival for the Lord”).
Questions on the Pesukim
From the posuk 25 of chapter 12 and the pesukim in chapter 13, it appears that the mitzva of Pesaḥ applies only in Eretz Yisrael, which is surprising for two reasons:
One, this seemingly contradicts the Torah’s earlier statement, [12:14] which implies that Pesacḥ is not limited to a specific generation, as the posuk states “throughout your generations;” thus the mitzva should have applied even before Israel entered the Land. The second implication is that Pesacḥ is not dependent upon place; that is, it is not dependent upon the Land.
Two, Is there a substantive connection between the mitzva of Pesacḥ and Eretz Yisrael? Why should Pesacḥ be considered a mitzva which is dependent upon the Land, which applies only upon entry into Eretz Yisrael? The fact that the mitzva was given in Egypt clearly indicates that it is not dependent upon the Land!
Was the Am Yisrael Obligated in the Mitzva of Pesacḥ Prior to Entering the Land?
Tosafot [Kiddushin 37b “Ho’il”] note that there is a difference of opinion among Midrashim on the question of whether Am Yisrael were obligated in the mitzva of Pesacḥ prior to entering the Land, with Mechilta [Masechta d’Pisḥa,12] presenting the position that the obligation commenced upon Israel’s entry into the Land. This is consistent with the posuk’s statement “And it shall come to pass when you enter the Land …” However, according to Mechilta’s approach, we must understand why Am Yisrael offered the korban Pesacḥ the second year in the wilderness, [Bamidbar (Numbers) 9:1-5] as well as at Gilgal after crossing the River Jordan to enter the Land. [Yehoshua 5:10] We should note that Rashi comments [Shemot 12:25] that the korban Pesaḥ was offered prior to entering the Land by virtue of a Divine mandate.
Sifrei [Parashat Ki Tavo, 297] is of the opinion that Am Yisrael were obligated to offer the korban Pesacḥ in the wilderness. The words “when you enter the Land,” which seemingly indicate that the obligation began only upon entering the Land are interpreted by Sifrei to mean “perform this mitzva in whose merit you will enter the Land.”
Even according to the opinion of Sifrei that the korban Pesaḥ was obligatory in the wilderness, there is a connection between it and the Land, as Sifrei says: “perform this mitzva in whose merit you will enter the Land.” Thus, even if the obligation to offer the korban Pesacḥ applied prior to entering the Land, there is still a connection between korban Pesacḥ and the Land, which we must understand.
The Purpose of the Mitzva of Pesacḥ
Ramban [Shemot 13:16] explains the purpose of the mitzva of Pesacḥ and of the miracles performed for the Am Yisrael during the exodus from Egypt. Among the nations of the world there were warped perceptions of God and His management of the world: some denied God’s existence altogether; while others denied Divine Providence, believing that God does not intervene in what happens in the world; that the events of this world are of no interest to Him. Ramban posits that when God performs miracles and wonders which change the natural order, on behalf of an individual or a group, as He did in taking His people out of Egypt, God’s existence and Providence are made manifest. Further, if the miracles are performed though a prophet, the world learns that God speaks to His creatures. Since the Torah is essentially the words of God to Moses, God’s miracles effectively demonstrate the truth of Torah.
Since God does not intervene to change the laws of nature in response to every plan to harm His nation, we are commanded to remember such interventions and to communicate to the coming generation that which the generation of the exodus experienced first-hand. Ramban expands the point and suggests that the goal of all creation is that the entire world should recognize that God is the Creator of everything and He Who runs the world. Overt miracles allow us to understand that there is no happenstance in running the world, and everything is divinely guided, thus the recognition of God must apply not only to overt miracles but to those which are hidden as well. Everything is the hand of God. Ramban states sharply: “One can have no portion of the Torah of Moshe until he realizes that everything which happens to the individual or the collective is miraculous.” Even in our private lives we must believe that everything that happens to us is a miracle!
Based upon Ramban’s elucidation, we can understand the connection between the mitzva of Pesacḥ and Eretz Yisrael. In the wilderness, prior to entering the Land, God’s providence over Am Yisrael was through overt miracles; the nation was fed by manna, which descended from heaven daily, the pillar of clouds protected the Israelites during the days and the pillar of fire at night. Am Yisrael saw how God changed the laws of nature on their behalf on a daily and ongoing basis. In this situation it was easy for Am Yisrael to perceive God as the Creator and Manager of the world, and to appreciate that everything in the world is under His control. However, when Am Yisrael entered the Land, the overt miracles ceased and God began supervising His nation through nature. God still maintained and maintains Hid special providence over Am Yisrael, but in a covert manner. The miracles are no longer clearly visible. Under such conditions, Am Yisrael is at risk of straying and failing to realize that reality is essential covert miracles; they may think that there are events in the world which are not under God’s supervision. Therefore, the mitzva of Pesacḥ comes as a reminder that there is a Creator Who manages everything in the world.
Even the according to the opinion that Am Yisrael was obligated in the mitzva of Pesacḥ before entering the Land, and “Am Yisrael entered the Land in the merit of this mitzva”, we can now understand the special merit of this mitzva in facilitating Am Yisrael’s entry into its Land.
Chazal (Our Sages) differ on the question of whether Am Yisrael were obligated to perform the mitzva of Pesacḥ before entering the Land or only upon entry into Her. Even the opinion that the obligation applied prior to entering the Land, there is still a connection between the mitzva of Pesacḥ and Eretz Yisrael, as it says that it was in the merit of the mitzva of Pesacḥ that Am Yisrael was privileged to enter the Land.
Ramban explains that the goal of the mitzva of Pesacḥ is to inculcate within Am Yisrael and the entire world belief that God supervises and runs the world. Beyond this, the mitzva of Pesacḥ teaches that nothing in the world is random; rather everything is a covert miracle performed by God. When one sees overt miracles, he can understand that it is God Who maintains the world through covert miracles; He supervises and manages everything that happens in the world. Before entering the Land, God’s providence over Am Yisrael was through overt miracles, making it easy to see the hand of God. However, upon entering the Land, the Am Yisrael came under “Natural Providence,” with covert miracles. The connection between mitzva of Pesacḥ and Eretz Yisrael stresses the fact that even though the hand of God in running the world is hidden, we must remember the miracles that God did for us in Egypt and understand that everything remains in His hands and He continues to supervise and run the world in every matter.
The practical lesson is that we must be aware of the multitude of miracles with which God has blessed Am Yisrael over the past century: the establishment of the State of Israel with the approval of the nations of the world, Israel’s victories in the ongoing battles to exist, in the War of Independence, Six Day war and Yom Kippur War, in each of which her army faced much larger armies, and the state’s continued development in all areas, economically, as a high-tech superpower, with an advanced and professional army, with productive farming. But beyond all these, is the development of the Torah world in Eretz Yisrael; the number of yeshivot and Torah students in Israel is unmatched throughout history.
Though we have not seen overt miracles, any reasonable person must see God’s providence over His nation Israel and His will to redeem them.
May we merit, with God’s help, complete salvation, speedily in our days.
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