Galilee Diary: Leaving the desert behind

March 31, 2009Rabbi Marc J. Rosenstein

Encamped at Gilgal, in the steppes of Jericho, the Israelites offered the Passover sacrifice on the fourteenth day of the month, toward evening. On the day after the Passover offering, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the country, unleavened bread and parched grain. On the same day, when they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased. The Israelites got no more manna; that year they ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.-Joshua 5:10-12

We learn in chapter 5 of Joshua that while the generation of the Exodus had been circumcised in Egypt, their children and grandchildren born in the desert had not been. And since only the circumcised may eat of the Passover sacrifice, it seems that this ritual too was not maintained during the forty years in the desert. Anyway, we couldn't have eaten matzah in the desert as we had no grain - only manna. Thus, the first Passover in the land of Israel was rather a significant event, a new experience for the people.

And when you enter the land that the Lord will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite. And when your children ask you, "What do you mean by this rite?" You shall say, "It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, because He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but saved our houses."-Exodus 12:25-27

It is interesting to try to imagine the questions that were asked at that first seder in the land...

On all the other nights of all the years of our lives we ate manna, which had the quality of tasting like whatever we wanted it to taste like (e.g., lobster); why tonight do we eat only this dry matzah?

  • On all other nights we ate food that fell from heaven - all we had to do was gather it; why tonight do we only eat bread that is the product of our labors of cultivation and preparation?
  • On all other nights we sat on our suitcases; why tonight have we unpacked?
  • On all other nights we drank water from Miriam's miraculous portable well; how on this night will we stay awake if all we have to drink is the wine of the grapes of the Land of Israel?
  • On all other nights we were surrounded and protected by the endless desert; why tonight do we sit with our doors open to listen for any suspicious activity by our new neighbors?
  • On all other nights we were all equal, sustained by God's providence; why tonight are there poor among us for whom we must we take responsibility?
  • On all other nights we knew we could rely on Moses to lead us; why tonight is our dinner-table conversation about the crisis of leadership?
  • On all other nights we looked out of our tents at an endless and unknown wilderness; why tonight does every hill and valley, every rock and tree suddenly have a name and a meaning for us?
  • On all other nights, when we felt that we belonged someplace - it was Egypt; why tonight do we feel we belong here?
  • On all other nights we could ask our parents about their memories of slavery and redemption; how on this night shall we answer our children's questions?
  • On all other nights we worried about getting to the Land of Israel; why tonight do we worry about being allowed to stay here?
  • On all other nights, we studied the Torah as a theoretical exercise, relevant to some distant future; why tonight does the transition from theory to practice seem so overwhelming?
  • On all other nights, it was the older generation who were responsible for our predicament; why on this night are we suddenly responsible for ourselves?
  • On all other nights, we dreamed of coming into our own land, that had been promised to us; of what shall we dream tonight?

(Originally published in Galilee Diary and Ten Minutes of Torah)

Related Posts

Aliyah to Israel is a Reform Value, Too!

October 18, 2022
There are a few days in my life that stand out. There are the big milestones: my first days of school, going to camp for the first time, and my first homerun. Another one of those dates that stands out is December 28th, 2015. That was the day that I made aliyah and became an Israeli citizen.

Keeping Family Close, Regardless of Distance

September 21, 2022
As I boarded the plane to Israel in the summer of 2002 for my first year of rabbinical school at HUC in Jerusalem, my mother said, "Please, just don't meet an Israeli." As soon as the plane touched down at Ben Gurion airport, I knew that I was home. A few months later, I met that Israeli. From our first conversation, he understood that I was studying to be a rabbi, and I understood that he wanted to live only in Israel.

Shabbat Message: A Galvanizing Visit to Israel That Fills Me With Encouragement

March 4, 2022
In meetings with the President of Israel, Isaac Herzog, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, and Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid, we discussed the crisis in Ukraine, the future of the Kotel, ensuring more funding and rights for non-Orthodox Jews, combatting racism, and stopping extremist violence against Palestinians, in addition to other pressing issues.